Mental and physical health go hand in hand. Together they equalise the scale that balances our life. Unexpected events can tip the scales pulling our welfare far beneath the fulcrum. Chronic illness is one of many weights that can break the chains supporting our own little world, and it is in these moments when we need to find a way to rise and restore the balance.
This was a difficult post for me to write, because I had to sit down and think about how much of an impact RA had on my mental health and attitude. I never really thought about it. I have always had a confident and optimistic approach to my life. I think this boldness stemmed from a childhood filled with constant change and by living an unconventional life in the creative world I chose. Facing a chronic illness is no different than being rejected and criticized for my work – all it does is push me to find a different way to succeed.
Dealing with RA never depressed me – it did however, cause me a great deal of frustration, because it slowed the momentum of the life I built. I became less productive at work, unable to keep up with rehearsals and social obligations. Mornings were difficult for me. Instead of rising for my daily workout, I dragged a stiff sore body out of bed that bared little resemblance to a dancer of 20 years. Mornings were always the catalyst of my day. It was maddening trying to come to terms with the idea that I was losing my most productive time. The pain and fatigue of RA compelled me to adopt a new pace that was alien to me. I used to think of myself as a quick and agile hummingbird, but RA had transformed me into a lumbering snarling grizzly bear. I was about to learn that being a bear wasn’t so bad.
I always lived what I considered a fearless life. I took risks. I didn’t hesitate if I was unhappy in a situation, I simply changed it. And that’s what I learned to do with RA. I found a new way to manage. I shifted my perspective and started creating new routines. I distracted myself with hobbies and passions. I gave myself breaks – in fact I scheduled them as part of a self-care package. I stopped feeling guilty about saying no. No means I give myself permission to put me first. I pay attention to my body so I can figure out how productive I can be on any given day. I look at what I have and what I can still do. I don’t lament the things I had to give up – some of the things I accomplished after RA were more fulfilling than many of the things I left behind.
The way we deal with challenges, physical or mental, is unique to each one of us. The key is to find a way on your own terms, and don’t be disheartened by the journey. Engross yourself in it. It will take time. Be confident about who you are and your abilities. Give yourself permission to have a bad day. Know it’s okay to build boundaries. It’s our body’s way of purging all the emotional junk that weighs us down. It’s a necessary cleansing that leaves us refreshed and ready to move forward. Give yourself breaks. Schedule them if you must. Know there are always possibilities waiting to be explored. Treat yourself to small luxuries that remind you life is worth each moment. A massage, a glass of champagne – something small that reminds you of all the good things in life.
A grizzly bear can reach speeds up to 30 – 40 mph. That is faster than I could ever run, even when I was at my fittest. Bears are stoic, fierce, gentle and surprisingly agile – like a hummingbird. Interesting. It appears my scale has regained its balance.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.