January is almost over, and the in the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard the melodic warble of the chickadee signaling a change in the air. The days are longer, warming up a little at a time, and even the though the first month has flown by, the year is just getting started. Just prior to the holidays I received news that I had been accepted to The Writer’s Studio program at one of our local universities – a one-year limited mentorship program that will result in a creative writing certificate from the university. At around the same time, I was cast into another show opening in February. I was so excited about the idea of going back to school and getting back on stage again that I almost forgot I had RA – but it wasn’t long before I was reminded.
In one of my classes, we discussed the blocks and obstacles writers encounter that prevent them from writing — social media, housework, interruptions from friends and family, thinking about all those “other things” we should be doing rather than getting down to work. This isn’t just a writer’s problem, it’s also a life problem. Distractions happen, and while I admit I have fallen victim to all those things as a writer, my main obstacle in getting my work done is living with rheumatoid arthritis. The days I put aside time to write, work or complete other tasks, are usually the days RA comes roaring in with a flare and my work is postponed once again.
RA is an unpredictable beast that shatters our best laid plans. It’s difficult not to feel frustrated when your plans fall through. One way I try to manage this problem is by modifying my self-care days to fit into my life, so that I won’t be brought to a full stop when RA interrupts my flow – if I can’t physically sit at the computer and work for a few hours, I turn on my kindle or pick up a book and read, researching the projects I’m working on – in this way I still feel productive, but I can relax in my heating blanket instead of sitting at the desk; other things I can do is manually edit a piece with a pen and a notebook, or watch a documentary on a topic I’m studying. Rehearsals at the theatre are more challenging. I clearly can’t rehearse from the comfort of my own home, so I prepare for those nights in other ways. I bring my splints, make sure I’m wearing clothes that are comfortable and easy to move in, or have a hot bath before rehearsal to loosen and soothe stiff joints; I bring some tea and enjoy a hot cuppa while taking a break between scenes and make sure I have some anti-inflammatories on hand in case pain gets in the way. I do what I can to make myself comfortable enough to ride out a couple hours of rehearsal.
Sometimes I can’t take a physical self-care day, so I indulge in what I call “cerebral” self-care moments. These are simple moments that soothe the mind and the senses, giving me a quick boost to make it through the day – stepping out for a breath of fresh air, unwinding in a quiet place for a few moments, listening to music or treating myself to a nice cup of tea or coffee. I try to reduce extra pressure on myself by narrowing my focus to only those tasks that need to be done today and leave the rest for tomorrow
Self-care days are necessary for those with chronic illness, but I think it’s just as important to tailor them to your lifestyle and make them your own. Creating a list of activities you can do on a self care day is a useful way to adapt them into your world. It can be exasperating losing time to chronic illness. I still have a hard time accepting my self-care moments, but I know that there’s nothing more precious than being at my best, and I know it’s those moments that will help get me there.
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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.