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Living with Arthritis.3

Dorothy GauvinHow to Live With Rheumatoid Athritis - On Your Own Terms

Like anybody who lives with the 'daily grind' - in the literal sense, of joints in which the cartilage has been stripped away by the effects of long-term RA, leaving eroded bones to scrape across each other - I could cheerfully bite the heads off people who ask me this inane question...

What's the worst part of living with Arthritis?

If only I hadn't been raised to answer politely, I would paraphrase a saying often used by politicians during the Global Financial Crisis: 'It's the pain, stupid.'

Yes, you saw that coming, if you or someone you care for is afflicted with RA. Pain at some level, somewhere in the body, is something we live with every day. The sheer relentlessness of it is something only those who experience it can truly understand.

How to live with arthritis on your own terms? It's the perception of pain you need to change. Now, don't expect me to start telling you 'It's all in your mind.' What I will say, knowing it to be true, is: with your mind, you can change the amount of control pain has over your daily activities. From my experience, I know the change is brought about in two main areas:

  • 1.Distraction - teach yourself how to pay less attention to pain.

Experiments prove the spectacular power of what is known to medical science as 'The Placebo Effect.' (If you're not sure about this, look it up, it's really interesting.) It works on much the same principle by which stage magicians get audiences to 'believe in magic' - the habit of our brains to expect that a particular cause will be followed by a particular effect.

If the cricketer swings his bat and hits the ball, we know from experience that we'll hear the sharp 'crack of willow on leather.' If, one day, we don't hear that sound, either we have gone deaf, gone crazy, or magic has occurred. We all prefer the magical explanation to its alternatives.

This is why sugar pills prove as effective as any pharmaceutical when used in 'double-blind' tests in the laboratory. However, veterinary reports do not show any observable benefits from the placebo effect in animals other than humans. We know that all animals have a brain. Zoo staff and pet-owners are well aware that animals have minds of their own. So what's the difference? I think it has to be that quality of the human mind we call imagination.

Can you bring about the 'placebo effect' in yourself? Absolutely, yes. There are several ways it can be done:

    Meditation. A handbook is all you need to teach yourself the method of your choice. Choosing among all the techniques on offer is the only hard part. My own favourite is the 'One Point' method. After making the usual preparations of switching off your phone, drawing the curtains and settling comfortably in a chair or on your bed ( if you fall asleep the first few times, what does it matter? )close your eyes and concentrate on the tiny point of white light that appears in the blackness behind your eyelids.

At first, this spot will flicker, even disappear for a moment, then come back to jump about on the black 'screen.' Your job is to concentrate on getting it to stay - very still, in the very centre. Think of nothing else until this happens. It will take a few tries - I didn't get it to happen for two whole weeks - but once you have the knack, you'll be able to get to the One Point within seconds of closing your eyes. So, what's the point of doing this?

With your mind fully engaged in its imaginative task, you can proceed to using several other tried and true techniques for pain control. These include:

    Visualization - of healthy, pain-free images of yourself. Some people project these into a future time, some recall true memories from the past. Either way helps to ease your present experience.

    Affirmations - choose some phrase, filled with positive meaning for you alone, repeat it with sincere focus until you feel an easing of the painful body-parts.

    Prayer - if you have a religious faith, put it to use for yourself, as well as whatever may be the greater good you wish for.

  • 2.Occupation - take the focus off your aches, pains, and disappointments.

Instead, give that brain of yours what it craves: pleasurable activity. The more time you give to doing something you enjoy, the less time you allow for self-pity, anger or frustration to work their nasty ways with your mind. If you are not physically mobile, your choices of activity will be limited, perhaps only to those undertakings that exercise the mind.

You are the expert on what you enjoy and find satisfying, so, it's over to you. I wish you every happiness in the pursuits you do choose. The words quoted below came from the much-loved French painter - Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)- whose hands were totally deformed by RA for the last nine years of his life.

'One must from time to time attempt things that are beyond one's capacity.'

For three years, my partner tried to convince me to add my two-cents-worth to this discussion. Now he's succeeded, I can't seem to shut up! Next time, I'll be sharing some of the less mental, more practical tips and tricks we've worked out together over our long experience with Rheumatoid Arthritis.©Dorothy Gauvin