by Stefanie Remson
Medically Reviewed by:
Tiffany Taft, PsyD
by Stefanie Remson
Medically Reviewed by:
Tiffany Taft, PsyD
Remaining active and getting my medications sorted were some of the promises I made to myself after my chronic illness diagnosis. But it really wasn’t that simple.
I was formally diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) after the birth of my first son in 2015. Looking back, I had lots of symptoms leading up to this diagnosis, but the worst were in the months after giving birth.
When I was diagnosed I cried in my car in the doctor’s parking lot for 10 solid minutes. I cried because I knew my life would never be the same, and I was already grieving the former me.
In this emotionally charged moment, I decided to make some promises to myself to maintain some semblance of the life that I knew.
Some of these promises helped me survive the darkest days, but almost all of them were far too lofty to uphold, and over time I’ve molded them to reflect my changing life with RA.
Right out of my rheumatologist’s office, while I was crying in my car, I promised myself I would not change a thing.
Somewhere in my mind, I knew this was impossible, but I was mentally preparing myself to handle anything that RA threw at me in the coming months to years.
There were times when this grit and determination definitely saved me, and there were times when I knew this promise wasn’t doing me any favors. When trying to uphold this promise, I often didn’t like myself because I physically couldn’t do what I used to, and my energy levels were so low. I wasn’t caring for myself or my needs.
I did not realize at the time that the ability to reassess a situation and adapt was, in fact, the best way to control the impact of RA on my life. Learning to be adaptable and flexible is a superpower I gained from this impossible promise.
On my diagnosis day, I decided that I was going to make every moment count.
In reality, I don’t think I knew what this promise looked like. What did it mean to make every moment count?
It wasn’t until I read about the sixth stage of grief that I started to figure it out. I might have accepted my life with RA, but I still wasn’t appreciating the meaning in my life.
Making every moment count doesn’t require you to do something amazing or different every day, but for me, it’s about finding meaning in my daily practices. Now, I make a conscious effort to identify the meaning in all my activities, from simple acts like resting to playing with my kids and being a nurse practitioner.
I promised myself that I would stay physically active and move my body every single day.
In the beginning, I took this promise very seriously and I committed to a half marathon. I forced myself to run it and I’m so proud of my achievement, but it cost me my sanity, an excessive dependence on ibuprofen, and two toenails.
I now intentionally leave this promise open-ended to be flexible and adaptable depending on how I feel each day. Some days this means a 45-minute cardio workout, sometimes this means a quick 10-minute weight session, and sometimes this means gentle stretching for 20–30 minutes.
After the half marathon accomplishment that nearly killed me, I also made a promise to be kinder, gentler, and more forgiving of myself. Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned, and sometimes things are much harder than expected, but at the end of the day, the way you treat yourself is really what matters.
As a nurse practitioner, I was fixated on making sure I got on the right medications. I thought if I got my meds sorted, I would go into remission and could get on with my life.
Unfortunately, I had to start and quickly stop a few different medications due to side effects, allergic reactions, infections, and other rare complications, and this was really hard on me emotionally. I never considered that I might be the patient with a rare reaction or poor response to a medication.
Over the years, many people have felt the need to give me advice and guidance about my treatment plan. Many even shamed me for taking modern medicines and not trying aggressive lifestyle changes first. With so much of this input, I even started medication shaming myself.
I have learned that medications don’t work for everyone, and people may or may not benefit from lifestyle changes to manage their symptoms. After having the experience I had with various medications, I made a promise to myself to stop medication shaming myself and others.
I promised myself I would always give 100%. I wanted to always try my best and give my all to each and every day.
Symptoms of a chronic illness can change what 100% means and it took time to figure out how my energy levels changed. Thinking in terms of spoons definitely helped, but it’s a constant learning process.
Now I know if I’m having a good day, and feel 100%, I give the day everything I’ve got, and give it my whole 100%. If, on another day, I feel that I’m functioning at about 40%, and I give this 40%, this is me giving 100%.
The meaning of 100% might change day-to-day, but doing your best doesn’t have to.
When I was diagnosed with a chronic condition, I made a lot of promises to myself to live my best life despite my new diagnosis of RA. It was this “despite my RA” part that really let me down.
Some promises were too big and some missed the mark altogether, but with time and flexibility, I continue to modify and adapt these promises to my everyday life. Don’t feel guilty or ashamed as you figure out how your promises work for you too.
Medically reviewed on December 14, 2023
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About the author
Ms. Stefanie Remson MSN, APRN, FNP-BC is the CEO and founder of RheumatoidArthritisCoach.com. She is a family nurse practitioner and is a rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patient herself. She has spent her entire life serving the community as a healthcare professional and has refused to let RA slow her down. She has worked with The Arthritis Foundation, The Lupus Foundation of America, Healthline, Grace and Able, Arthritis Life, Musculo, Aila, and HopeX. You can learn more at her website and on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.