I’m flaring at the moment quite badly. In fact, it’s probably the worst overall flare I’ve had for quite a considerable length of time. Years I think. I’m in some sort of pain constantly. The elbow flare which has been in my elbow since September, is limiting my arm mobility a little (I suspect it’s now in the tendons), and the shoulder of the same arm is restricting other movements (pulling up my trousers being the most painful action). They’ve been pretty bad for a couple of weeks now, but in the past week, my wrists, all my fingers, and the rest of my hands all decided to join the party. This has meant that restful sleep is becoming harder and harder as the cramping in the hands during the night wakes me or causes painful pins and needles. My knees occasionally give me twinges too, just to let me know that things could still get worse!
It’s a pain – quite literally – and yet, I’ve also felt quite happy too. It’s strange, but this flare has been a good opportunity to assess how far I’ve come since I was diagnosed and how different I am at dealing with this illness, the pain, as well as the restrictions and unpredictability.
I now meditate daily. I have been doing this for nearly a year. Among other things, it is giving me an opportunity to listen to my thoughts and to tackle some of the unhelpful ones. I realise that talking about ‘fighting’ this flare is not helpful. It’s combative and aggressive, and the arthritis is aggressive enough without getting into a fight! Instead, I’ve reframed this to thinking about ‘riding it out’ instead. Bearing with it, and accepting it. Going with the flow or surfing it even.
My meditation practice and work around compassion and self-compassion that I’ve been doing has meant that I’ve been kinder to myself. I used to get frustrated by what I couldn’t do, and angry and maybe even try and do too much or overdo it. Now, I am able to recognise the signs of overdoing it, and I’ve been ‘indulging’ in plenty of different pleasant activities to help me feel better psychologically. I am suffering enough, why make myself suffer more by feeling angry at myself, frustrated or punishing myself by trying to do things that will cause me more pain? I have nothing to prove to myself.
I’ve been much more objective about my pain and my flares. My partner says that I am less emotional about it. Which I suppose is the same thing. I’m not identifying with it too much. It has an identity, my disease, but it’s almost as if it is a separate entity to me. It has its own timetable, it will do what it does, I can only live alongside it. Again, my meditation practice has been essential for helping me to develop this way of thinking and to put it into practice.
I’ve not only been able to accept help from friends, (and ask for it), but I’ve actually felt pleased about saying yes. In times past, I would have resented the fact that I needed help, and either refused it, or accepted it and felt very guilty and like a failure. Now I realise that if someone offers to help it’s because they want to, and therefore by accepting it, I’m allowing them to do something positive – which is good for us both!
I am still exercising. Doing what I can, and staying within my limits. If I’m going to be in pain ANYWAY, then why not be in pain doing something that I love! Just so long as it isn’t going to make me worse. So I have been going to zumba (but just not using my arms!), cycling (I’m still safe to do this), and doing yoga or pilates almost daily. The low impact exercises are great because there is a lot of muscle tension around the joints and the flares, so these practices allow me to relax and stretch out. When there are things I can’t do because I’m restricted or they hurt too much, I just don’t do it. But the rest of my body is definitely benefiting from being allowed to do some sort of activity. And these activities continue to give me spoons, rather than using up spoons I don’t have.
I don’t know how long I’ll be flaring for. I assume it’ll be a while. I have builders in my house. They’re not going any time soon. I assume the flares will leave sometime after they do. But I do not worry or feel anxious about the timetable of it. I have been relatively pain-free before. I will be again. That’s enough for me.
But I want to make one thing clear. Accepting my flares and my pain is not the same as giving up! I’m throwing everything I can to try and help ease the pain and shorten the flare. I’ve bought some castor oil to try, some Epsom salts to bathe in, some devil’s claw gel to rub in. I’m upping my daily medication dose. I’m using hot water bottles and icepacks. Sometimes simultaneously on different parts of the body! I don’t have expectations about whether anything will work. But some things give me at least a little relief and I think it’s worth a try anyway. I’m vaguely considering having my friend who has got a cold sneeze on me, because if my immune system has to start fighting that, then perhaps it’ll stop attacking itself! Vaguely considering it. Not seriously! But when you’re in pain and have restricted mobility, sometimes you’ll try almost anything!!!!
So yes, this flare is a pain. But it’s a world away from my experiences before my meditation practice. And a good reminder to keep it up, no matter what life decides to throw at me.