Sunday, March 25, 2012

Feeling pretty when it's an uphill battle

Hello everyone! It's spring (sort of) and that calls for a much more cheerful post today. The truth is that I was not totally satisfied with my previous post here. I felt that I did quite a lot of whining, and not much positive thinking. I'm going to make today's effort much more upbeat, so please see it as kind of a companion post to last week's.

Now, as I discussed last week, it's very difficult for me to maintain any sort of self-esteem since my arthritis began to attack my body in earnest. I suspect that this could be the case for many a chronic pain patient, since chronic pain often manifests itself in a number of unpleasant physical symptoms. I don't want to feel terrible about my body all the time, of course, because my body feels pretty terrible all by itself! I did some brainstorming, and, integrating both my own routines and some that I'd really like to try, came up with this list of self-esteem boosting tips. Let's take a look.

 Some days, nothing sounds better than a hot, relaxing soak in the tub. If you are lucky enough to have a spacious tub awaiting your every bathing whim, go ahead and take advantage of that sucker! If you've got some swelling going on, don't be afraid to grab a bag of epsom salts and throw about 2 cups into your hot bathwater. This feels heavenly, trust me! Sometimes there's nothing better for self-esteem than smelling really nice, and a hot soak with your favorite bubble bath is the perfect fix.

If, like me, you are stuck only with a shower, don't worry! I frequently fill my little plastic tub with hot water and 1/2 cup of epsom salts. I can sit on the couch, turn on some Netflix, and soak my poor swollen feet! It also works wonders on sore hands. Of course, a floofy loofa and your favorite body wash makes a hot shower an awesome experience, too!

Give yourself a spa day
If you can afford a day at the REAL spa, go for it! I'm all for that. I'm a struggling college student, so a spa package isn't usually in my budget, but when I'm really frustrated with my body, I take a few minutes to soothe myself with a mini spa.

Generally, I start with a baking soda soak. Baking soda is often touted as a great detox treatment, and while I'm not much of a scientist and won't be able to tell you what's going on there, I find that an occasional baking soda bath for my hands and feet really helps rejuvenate them. I toss 1/2 cup baking soda in warm water and soak my hands and feet for 20 minutes each. Listen to your favorite music, watch your favorite show, or do whatever calms you during this time.

When my soaks are finished, I rinse in cool (NOT freezing cold) water, pat dry, and give myself a little nailcare. I'm no good at nail polish, but a nice trim is sometimes all it takes. Of course, if you are more talented/artistically inspired, paint away!

I also take special care of my skin. Since my pain has really ramped up A LOT, I find that my skin has begun to express that discomfort by breaking out and being unpleasant. I haaaaate it! There's not a whole lot I can do, but I feel better and a whole lot prettier when I make an effort to care for it. I know this is my body's natural reaction to so much chaos going on, so I want to take good care of it during that process. I exfoliate weekly, use a cleansing mask on special spa days, and moisturize frequently. Even if my skin looks angry, if it feels fresh, clean and soft, I find I'm much more able to accept the blemishes.

Haircare is a basic part of bodycare, but that doesn't mean you can't have some special products with which to treat yourself! Find a salon-quality shampoo and conditioner, and use them sparingly whenever you feel that you need a little extra love.

Maintain your pre-pain routine
I find myself slipping into somewhat of a disheveled mess when my pain starts to really gnaw at my body. This is an incredibly difficult behavior to counteract, because of course you don't want to do much of anything when you're suffering! However, DON'T let your pain dictate how you look and feel about yourself! If you take some time every week to do some sort of body upkeep, whatever it may be, keep doing it! I've found that when I let myself go a little bit, I don't feel nearly as great about myself. Some days are rough, and that's okay, but make the effort to follow your regular routine.

Change something if it's weighing you down
As I mentioned in last week's post, I've really been agonizing over my hair loss. When I first noticed that I was losing a little hair, I mentioned it to my rheumatologist. He claimed that it's not common, but some women with R.A. experience some mild hair loss. Since I spoke with him, I have begun to lose a lot more hair every day. It grows back, but this leaves my hair sort of raggedy, at all different lengths. As a woman, I have always felt that my thick, shiny and very pretty (if I do say so myself!) auburn hair really defined my own sense of beauty. Now that I'm on so many medications and undergoing such a drastic change in my health, my hair has definitely lost it's lustre. To combat the hair mourning that I've been experiencing, I've begun to ponder making a change.

I wanted to grow out my hair and donate it to Locks of Love, which I felt would put my own health problems in perspective. Unfortunately, this is not an option for me right now, so instead I want to get a cute new haircut! No matter the problem, most talented stylists are 100% capable of restoring and rejuvenating hair. I've even thought about adding some purple and coppery orange streaks.

If some cosmetic change in your chronically pained body is dragging down your self-esteem, don't be afraid to make a change. The change can be as simple as a new haircut, a new color, new clothes, whatever! Make it dramatic and fun! You're suffering from chronic pain so you're allowed to make as many fun changes as you'd like. I said so.

Get outside!
Really. I mean it. This is a BIG part of feeling good. We're heading into spring (my favorite season!) and the air smells amazing. The sun is warm, grass is starting to grow, and everything is starting to bloom. Go sit outside and read a book. Take a walk. Bask in the sun. Enjoy yourself out in nature, and I promise you'll feel a little bit better. The truth is, sitting inside can get to be pretty miserable. The same scenery every day is not good, and with chronic pain can come some pretty heavy depression. Combat that by heading out into the yard or nearest park and soaking up some Vitamin D (which is a great vitamin that I will be talking about more at a later date).

I am SO guilty of only leaving my house when my medical team dictates that I do so. I leave for my blood panels, and to pick up my meds. After his day at work, the BF and I sometimes take walks around the block. The truth is, though, that it's hard to be seen with a cane at 22 years old. I still struggle with that, so I insist that we walk at night. The other day, though, I shuffled into the living room and saw THE SUN! And I remembered it was spring, which I love. From that point on, I've had my curtains pulled back and my window open wide at all times. The morning air smells DELICIOUS and alive. Today is a cloudy day, but I fully intend to push myself outside more often. You guys, MAKE ME GO OUTSIDE.

Accept compliments
From yourself AND others. I am, admittedly, really terrible at this too. The BF, despite my often surly attitudes, still tries often and lovingly to compliment me. I need to accept those gratefully (and so do YOU). Let your support team compliment you, and accept them kindly. Nothing can lift spirits like a well-placed compliment. Believe them when you receive them.

As for yourself, well...affirmations are your best friend. I've been trying to make these affirmations work for me since high school, but I'm pretty determined since my diagnosis. Sure, there are a lot of things that feel so very wrong about my body right now. That is not my fault, but it's also not something I can fix immediately. Instead, I need to look right past that stuff and search for some great things about myself. I've begun to journal extensively, and I write down my affirmations every day. When I'm having a particularly rough day, I can go back and read my previous affirmations. Complimenting yourself through affirmations every day is a quick and painless way to boost your confidence, and reading your past affirmations during a rough patch is a great way to lift your mood.

Let your support team spoil you
Part of this, of course, is not hiding away like a small, weird hermit crab. None of your loved ones will appreciate that behavior, and it's not good for you at all. I'm pretty guilty of this one, too. I like to hide away because I don't feel like being a burden on my friends and loved ones, and because I feel that my peers struggle to relate to my current issues. HOWEVER, if they're really my friends they'll accept me anyway and blah blah blah. All that stuff. I just have to make an effort to reach out when I need it, and allow my loved ones into my life. YOU do too. Let people in, and let them make a little bit of a fuss.

Despite my growing struggles with arthritis, I'm still living away from my mom. We're in the same city. I text and talk to her A LOT. I see her A LOT. She likes to get me groceries, or take me out to a delicious breakfast. And I let her do these things, because she's my mom and I know this whole arthritis nonsense is so rough on her. I text my sister almost every day and allow her to buy me chai or breakfast. She loves me and she's so much fun. I adore my time with her. I e-mail my grandparents regularly because they're worried and they like it when I keep them updated. I don't just let my family keep tabs on me for their own sake, though. Having them in my life and involved in my medical struggle is good for me, too. When I hear from my family, my mood brightens. I'm happy to be around my sister, who is my absolute favorite person. When I go out and get totally spoiled, I come home feeling much more positive.

Allow your loved ones some time to spoil you and take care of you. They struggle a great deal with your chronic pain. It's okay to assert your independence, as we often need to do, but be kind about it, and give them plenty of time to dote on you anyway. You'll get out of the house, away from the place that might feel so full of your pain or sickness, and you'll get to be with people who are crazy about you and your recovery. Let it happen.

(The BF will be grumpy with me for this section. He tries to spoil me all the time and I'm stubborn about it. Poor guy. He puts up with SO MUCH from my hardheaded self. Everyone give him some serious props for the things he does for me.)

This has been a much longer post than I planned, so I want to wrap it up with this last tip. Remember back to last week, when I reminded us all that inflammation and joint/body weirdness is a natural cry for help from your inner workings. Your body is trying to express that something is wrong inside. Listen to this, and understand that the physical changes you might be undergoing are a natural reaction to a much bigger inner struggle. Cut your body some slack. It's doing the best it can,  and perhaps some of its recovery might be bad skin for awhile, or wacky hair loss. Combat these the best you can, but also be kind to your body during this time.

Some days, I am just so frustrated with my body that I can't stand it. Why won't my hair STOP FALLING OUT? Why are my knees and ankle so WEIRD and LUMPY? Because arthritis is a bad time for my body, that's why. I remind myself constantly, and so should you. Be nice to yourself.

Those are my tips for the time being. Try them for yourself, let me know if I missed some, and tell me how they worked for you! Remember, most of all, to be gentle with yourself.


  1. Kathryn,

    Where were you when I was newly diagnosed at 19? ...Oh, not even a twinkle in your mother's eye! :)

    These are all fabulous tips!

    The thing I wish to add is that stress (soaking in negative thoughts and emotions) can exacerbate the symptoms of RA.

    Learning, not only what stress is, but how to transform it can make a huge difference. It has for me. (Later is better than never.)

    Stress changes the chemical cascade that is constantly occurring - our body is responding to what we see, hear, think and feel.

    In creating this list, you touch upon a number of things that help you deal not only emotionally, but mentally and physically with this disease. Things like honouring your values, accepting support, self-care. When you are aware, truly aware, of how this impacts your physiology, you are armed with some powerful, life-changing, "stress-undressing" strategies. There's no doubt about it, a chronic disease adds stress to life.

    1. You are so right! Actually, stress is on my list of blog topics - I wanted to dedicate an entire post to it because it's something that really plagues me. I am naturally just a worrier! Chronic disease is absolutely the most stressful thing I have had to deal with so far in my relatively short life, and I'm still learning how to combat this stress.

      Thank you so much for reading, and for your very insightful comment! I so appreciate it!

  2. Hair loss. I understand that frustration 100%. I too had thick very nice hair and it started falling out by the hand and brush full. It went from shiny to dull and dry. I starting taking biotin everyday. I think it's called hair skin and nails and it's from Costco. But reg biotin at the local drug store it GNC works too. It's made a big change. It'd like, ok, I get I have to deal with all this other stuff, let me keep my hair. Make that normal. It really helps. Thanks for all the positive words. It's hard to find out there sometimes.

  3. You are wonderful - thank YOU for the suggestion! I find that I struggle less to stay positive when I can share my positive days with other chronic pain patients. I want us all to find the relief we need, but in the meantime, a little positive thinking is just what we all need.

  4. Hi Kathryn,

    Just started reading your blog and while I'm sorry that you've joined the RA club, I am enjoying reading your thoughts on living with it. I also experience hair loss (I believe it is waaay more common than doctors let on). I have read that it is caused by a combination of the RA's effects on our bodies and the meds many RAers take, i.e. methotrexate and steroids. One thing that really helps with this is taking a high prescription dose of folic acid (which you should already be on if taking mtx, so if you aren't, talk to your doc asap). I also second taking biotin like robbielynn suggested. I have just started it and I have heard many other RAers recommend it. Many people with autoimmune diseases have deficiencies of B vitamins, vitamin D and iron, so consider having your doctor test you for these and taking supplements if needed. The Bs help with energy level among other things and vitamin D deficiency can cause depression, bone density loss and...wait for it...widespread joint and muscle pain! After taking a prescription dose of D for over a month now, I have to say, I experience much less pain that I had previously attributed to my RA and fibro. I'm certainly not saying it is for sure your (or anyone else's) problem, but it's worth checking into.

    Sorry for the overly long comment, lol!