Coping with pain and fatigue
The pain that I had on the worst days felt like I had been in a car accident. That's what I felt like I looked like when I walked. Someone who had seen me walk would say, "She looks like she was in a car accident." And you wake up and you feel like I got hit by a truck while I was sleeping. That's what the pain was. And then there's the other little things, like you go to put your shoes on and your feet don't quite squeeze into your shoes. And it just changes your whole perception of yourself because you're young, you're in your 30s, you don't even stop and think about your health. And then all of a sudden, you feel like you're 80 years old and you have to start thinking of yourself as not healthy, and it's difficult.
I felt like my life as I knew it was over. And there was a mourning period. You go through the stages of grieving. You don't want to believe it, you get angry about it, you know, and it's very similar to the grieving process, and you're grieving who you were. They adapt and say, "I'm OK with this new definition of who I am." I call it simulated healthiness. I simulate that I am healthy, and I feel good about that. But I know I have some limitations. I can't overdo it. If I overdo it, I pay the price. And if I need -, you know, there's certain things I can't do.
I think one of the things I had to give up was you can't just say, "I'm going to go the mall and go walking around all day." You can't, because you're going to be a disaster the next day, and it's not going to be enjoyable, because after you were there for a while, it hurts and it's not fun. So you start to think, "OK, I need to get something from the mall. What store do I want to go to? What entrance do I want to park at so I'm closest to that store?" So that I can go in, and if I do want to walk around a little bit, I haven't expended my energy just getting to that one thing I definitely needed to get. And if I don't feel too good, I don't have to stay.
Pain and fatigue are part of the everyday experience of living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Some days will be worse than others, and it's important to have ways of managing these symptoms. Below are some helpful suggestions about how to cope with the stiffness, pain and fatigue of RA. Make sure to speak to your doctor before beginning any new physical activities or health regimens.
- Set your alarm clock a little earlier than normal. Use this extra time to do some gentle range-of-motion exercises to prepare your joints for the day.
- Use an electric blanket to help warm up your body and joints before you get out of bed in the morning.
- Some doctors suggest going directly into a warm shower or bath. This will warm up your body and joints.
- Pay attention to actions that trigger pain. Be aware of them, and you can take steps to reduce the pain.
- Light exercise might also help prevent pain. Exercise strengthens the muscles around the joints, and can help build stamina. Talk to your doctor about creating an exercise program that is right for you. Learn more about exercise for people with RA here.
- To reduce pain after sitting, take frequent stretch breaks while sitting for an extended period of time.
- If you have pain or difficulty performing certain activities that you used to be able to do with ease, talk to your doctor. It may help to keep a journal of what's painful to help you remember.
- Set your priorities for the day and think about how you're going to accomplish them.
- Realize that some days you just might not be able to do everything you want to do, and that's OK.
Get enough rest
- Get plenty of rest. Morning and/or afternoon naps may be helpful.
- If you can find the time, take a 15-20 minute break in the morning and afternoon. Breaks can help build up the stamina you need to complete your day.
- Pace yourself, even on good days. You will have days with less pain and fatigue, but if you do too much trying to make up for your bad day yesterday, you might make things worse for tomorrow.
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