Whether you are a single parent by choice or circumstance, you know that single parenting brings with it unique challenges and joys. For most single parents, the question most often asked is “how do you do it alone?” I am generally asked a slightly different question – “how do you do it alone with chronic illness?”
Doing It Alone
Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is an autoimmune disease in which body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints and organs. I was diagnosed with RA almost six years ago, shortly after the birth of my youngest son. In one day, I went from being a young healthy mother to chronically ill.
As a mother in my early 30s being diagnosed with a debilitating disease I had never heard of, my initial reaction was fear. I was afraid that RA was a death sentence and I feared that it would leave my children without a mother. In those first few months, my pain and symptoms were so bad that I could barely hold my newborn and if not for the love and support of my sister, those first few months would have been harder to bear.
Even though much time has passed and my symptoms are now controlled, I still worry about my health and the affect that has on my children now and into the future. Now, as a single mother, I worry about money, time, love, and discipline. We are all trying to raise well-adjusted children to the best of our abilities. I know that single motherhood isn’t all rainbows and flowers and it is the hardest job on Earth. But being chronically ill – that takes single parenting to a whole new level!
Don’t let the guilt of being chronically ill rule over your life.
I am no stranger to the overwhelming burden of guilt about my health and how it has affected my family. My chronic illness guilt isn’t constant but is due to factors such as stress and flare-ups. Moreover, it affects my daily life, my personal and professional responsibilities and my ability to participate in social functions. I have spent a lot of years dealing with self-imposed guilt but I have also learned that I don’t always have to feel guilty about my illnesses.
In the Beginning
I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia shortly after my youngest son was born and I am now six years into my battle with chronic illness and pain. My pain over the years has gone from widespread, to hard to control, to well-managed, to activity specific and vice versa. My illnesses have invaded every aspect of my life and my kids’ lives.
Learning to manage the effects of chronic illness on my life — our lives — I often wondered whether the sickness and pain will ever leave us. I saw chronic illness as an unwanted houseguest — unannounced, interfering, and causing havoc on all of our lives. And the sicker I got, the more I needed help managing my home life.
I felt incapable and angry because I wasn’t able to do things that I “should” be able to do, such as cooking healthy meals and keeping our home clean. I often overdid things and ended up with flare-ups that kept me in bed for days and from doing all the things I desperately wanted to do. It was a never ending cycle of guilt and flare-ups and all I wanted to do was to continue to work, feel productive and to take care of my family.
What would life be like if you couldn’t easily pick up your toothbrush, or make a cup of coffee, or wash your dishes? What would life be like if these basic actions caused you unimaginable pain and discomfort, sometimes so bad that it was debilitating? Unfortunately, 1.5 million Americans can answer this question.
If you are one of the 1.5 million men and women suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis (or RA for short), you know exactly what life is like dealing with an aching and swelling that takes over your body and hinders you from free movement. Life can be almost unbearable and keeping up with day to day tasks can sometimes not be achieved. That is why it is so vital for anyone suffering from this horrible condition to do the necessary steps to take control of the symptoms.
Keep reading to learn how you can help control your RA symptoms and flare ups…
- Listen to your body. RA is an autoimmune disease that makes the body attack the healthy tissue that surrounds the joints. This causes the joints to become swollen, usually affecting the hands, feet, wrists, and ankles. RA is known to affect other body parts as well. Although it is not completely understood why RA occurs, it is believed that genetics and a person’s environment does have an effect as well as cigarette smoking. So what can a person do? Pay attention to your body. Listen to any signs and symptoms and take action. By discovering RA early and diagnosing it early, you give yourself much more chance of living a less painful life. If ignored, RA can lead to permanent joint issues, bone erosion and finally deformity.
- Do your homework. Hopefully you have discovered RA early on in the disease. If so, immediately start working with your physician to create a personalized, unique health treatment plan that works for your schedule. For example, talk with your physician about including activities that assist the nervous system like yoga and meditation. Also, be open to incorporating holistic healing modalities like acupuncture, cranial sacrial, massage and chiropractic.
- Exercise often! One of the best things that you can do for yourself to reduce the incidence of flare-ups is to work out. Exercising helps the body flush toxins, reduce inflammation, and lubricate joints. Experts feel that by combining medication and regular exercise a person can reduce the incidence of RA significantly.
Kishana Sainte writes on health & lifestyle topics, including rheumatoid arthritis on behalf of MyDocHub.com, a trusted online patient recommendation and medical information website developing condition-specific apps such as its RA Health Flare Tracker iPhone/iPad app.
Don’t let a chronic illness take over your life.
There have been many occasions where I thought, “If I could only feel good, my self-esteem would be so much better.” Like many living with chronic illness, I find that being sick and in pain makes me frustrated at my body for working against me. Moreover, the medications I take to manage my diseases can cause some pretty awful side effects. Medication responses, such as skin problems, hair loss, puffy face and weight gain, all affect my self-esteem.
Chronic illnesses can lower levels of self-esteem and self-worth. Years of living with illness, pain and fatigue make it difficult to achieve life goals. Being sick can make it impossible to be self-sufficient and happy, thereby resulting in feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. When we feel worthless and/or helpless for long periods, depression is inevitable. And with depression come higher levels of pain and increased disease symptoms.
How can spirituality help you?
Individuals practicing spirituality or religion are reporting better physical and mental health than those not practicing. Further, studies show that spirituality improves health outcomes for people living with chronic illness. In fact, one study out of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center showed that those who attended religious services weekly live longer than those who don’t. Another study from 2011 out of the University of Missouri reveals that religious and spiritual support helps both men and women cope with chronic illness.
How Spirituality Can Help the Chronically Ill
Practicing mediation or prayer can help chronically ill patients cope with pain and disease symptoms. Spirituality enriches a connection to God or another higher power and helps patients to manage challenges in a healthy and meaningful way.
When you find meaning in your experiences with being sick, you can experience a better quality of life despite the fact that your disease may be incurable. Moreover, spirituality helps us to better understand the world and our role in it. When we utilize spirituality or religion as tools to coping with illness and pain, we can better identify with the ways in which chronic illness changes our lives.
Undoubtedly, there is a strong link between chronic pain and depression. The relationship is reciprocal in that each condition can bring on symptoms of the other. While finding help for either condition alone is of utmost importance in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, finding professional help becomes increasingly important when you’re dealing with both conditions at once. To help you determine whether you are currently dealing with a combination of these two conditions, I’ve provided a symptom list of each below. These lists will help you prepare for a discussion with your physician by giving you common symptoms to base your concerns from. Read over the list below and take note of the symptoms that you are currently experiencing:
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Continuous sad, anxious or empty feelings
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Overeating or loss of appetite
- Constant feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
- Thoughts of death and/or suicide
- Mild to severe pain that lasts longer than expected after injury
- Severe pain that may be described as shooting, burning or electric
- Constant discomfort, soreness, stiffness, tightness
- Change in mood. i.e. irritability, depression, anxiety or stress
If you are experiencing a combination of depression and anxiety, it is often best to treat the two conditions separately. This involves finding both a skilled pain specialist as well as a therapist. Combining their focused treatment methods will help you effectively treat both conditions simultaneously. However, working with two physicians does mean that you will need to report back to each with the therapies and medications you are receiving from the other. This way, you can be sure that you are receiving treatments that complement one another to produce the best possible results.
Getting the most out of your treatments
While carefully following the instructions provided by your doctor will be of the highest value, there are also a few other ways you can facilitate your treatment process as a patient. Some of these include:
- Keeping track of your pain symptoms and depressive moods in a journal and bringing it with you to appointments with your physicians.
- Developing and following a healthy diet and comfortable exercise routine
- Avoiding alcohol and cigarettes
- Reaching out to trusted friends and family members for help with difficult tasks
- Taking time for rest and relaxation
- Informing a trusted friend or family member of your medication/therapy schedule so that they can help you stay on track.
- Researching and asking your doctors about the medications and therapies you are prescribed.
I hope that this information will help you effectively identify and treat your unique condition. In my many years of practice, helping my pain patients gain a better understanding of their conditions and treatment options has allowed me to optimize the success of their treatments. I wish you the best of luck in your journey to relief and remind you that with wonderful online resources like Alliance Health Communities, support is just a click away.
Guest Post by: Lynn Webster, MD
About Dr. Webster
Dr. Webster is Medical Director of CRI Lifetree and current president of the Academy of Pain Medicine. He has conducted or participated in over 200 clinical studies over the course of his career as a pain physician and researcher. His research work centers on the development of safer and more effective therapies for chronic pain and addiction prevention. He is best known for developing the widely used Opioid Risk Tool (ORT) and for his public campaign to reduce overdose deaths from prescription medications. You can find a more information on Dr. Webster by viewing his Health Grades profile.