What DO you do when the pain won’t go away? When Rheumatoid Arthritis comes it generally comes to stay. My childhood experiences with illness were few and far between and always short-lived: symptoms would appear followed by a visit to the doctor and pharmacist, maybe a few days in bed and before you could blink I would be back to my normal routine. It was a shock to me when the RA pain just would not go away.
With the onset of RA new words entered my vocabulary – ACUTE and CHRONIC. Acute conditions are generally resolved without medical intervention and are short-lived. They tend to ‘run their course’and self-medication usually works as in the case of coughs and colds. Chronic illnesses need prescription medication and ongoing medical supervision. They are diseases that have sometimes taken years to develop, as in the case of cancer, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Medical aids generally make allowance for chronic illnesses and have separate benefit funds due to the ongoing nature of the disease. So the difference between acute and chronic has more to do with the DURATION of the illness rather than the severity of the illness. RA was my first experience with a chronic condition and it was very frightening.
Denial was my first response to RA followed alarmingly by depression. If you experience both these responses remember that you are normal! No-one wants to hear a diagnosis of RA and when the days turn into weeks and the weeks turn into months and the months turn into years – who wouldn’t feel depressed?! We all build our lives around favourite occupations. For me it was teaching. At the time of my diagnosis I was completing my fourth year at Edgewood Teacher’s Training College. One of the hardest aspects of RA is the FORCED change of lifestyle. You have no choice. Pain determines what you can and cannot do. I was medically boarded after two and a half years of teaching. A once active lifestyle suddenly becomes sedentary as inflamed, aching joints bring an abrupt halt to physical activity. Before my diagnosis I was very active and enjoyed playing squash every day. It can seem as though everything you love to do has been stripped away. Life can begin to feel pretty empty and the days endless. RA is tough to accept.
During my first decade of RA I was hospitalized many times for depression. Medication helps short-term but it is not a long-term solution. RA has the power to immobilize our bodies but our brains are still highly active. The inactivity and pain play havoc with the mind. I remember lying on my bed feeling as though I could conquer the world but the moment my feet hit the floor reality struck a cruel blow every time. Depression and loneliness go hand in hand. Inactivity invariably leads to isolation. Isolation leads to loneliness. For my thirty years of marriage I have spent my weekdays alone. There is a world of difference between being at home when you are healthy and being at home when simple chores seem overwhelming. The worst is having no-one to talk to who understands.
My long-term solution for depression comes from the Word of God. During one of my ‘down’moments I discovered this Bible verse: Anxiety of the heart causes depression,But a good word makes it glad. (Proverbs 12:25) Depression is the direct result of ANXIETY. An active mind languishing on a sickbed that is allowed to entertain anxious thoughts will undoubtedly lead to depression. God gives us the solution to both anxiety and depression in the second half of the verse – But a good word makes it glad! You need a GOOD WORD and the best words I know come from the Word of God. Fear will miraculously turn to faith. Your circumstances may not change immediately but your mind will be changed. You will begin to see your circumstance from God’s perspective instead of your own. I have personally experienced the power of God’s Word to not only make my heart happy and my face cheerful but to build up my spirit so that I can live free of anxiety and depression despite my circumstances. God has given me the victory over depression. RA may affect your body but don’t let it affect your mind. A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, But by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken. (Proverbs 15:13)>