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It's OK to Take a Break in Life With Rheumatoid Arthritis

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I open my eyes. Groggy, I roll over as pain shoots through my body to look at the time – 3:30 a.m. Seriously? I roll back over, pain in many joints, trying to get comfortable – but once again unsuccessful. After an hour of this, I get up a start another very stressful and busy day.

As I move from one thing to another, I somehow manage to push through the day. Evening comes, exhaustion overtakes me and I slip into a restless sleep. At 3:30 or 4:00 (if I am lucky, 5:00), it all starts again. Some days are better and less painful than others, some days are worse, but each day, in its own way, can be exhausting and stressful, and take so much energy.

I am discovering that sometimes my never-ending pace, lack of rest, and stress can send my rheumatoid arthritis into a flare. While these things are not good for anyone, they can be our worst enemy when battling rheumatoid arthritis. It many times amplifies our symptoms and worsens our condition.

Yet for some reason, at times I feel guilty for stepping back, taking a break, shutting down, or simply tuning out. Why do I feel that way? Why is caring for myself in this way wrong? Why is putting what I need before other things bad? Sometimes this pressure comes from outside, but many times, it is my own internal monologue that makes me feel guilty.

It’s like I have this little voice in my head that says, “You can’t stop. You can’t take a break. You can’t let others down. You need to ‘suck it up’ or you can’t show weakness. You need to push through.” And that right there is the problem. Instead of giving myself the room to “not be OK” or simply giving myself the time and freedom to rest, I compare and then guilt myself for how I am handling things.

A few months ago, I friend looked at me and said, “It’s OK to think of yourself and put yourself first for a change. Sometimes, that is the healthiest thing you can do.” I sat there and started to argue, and he looked at me and said it again. As tears began to form in my eyes, I could feel a weight lifted off me and relief from a burden I did not realize I was carrying.

It was OK to let go and simply spend some time caring for myself. It did not mean I did not think of or care for others, it just meant it was OK to care for me and my health too. I needed to give myself a break, find some rest, and then decide how I wanted to engage going forward. For me, it was one of the most revolutionary and life-changing thoughts I had ever had, and one that I desperately needed.

Taking a break did not mean I was weak. It did not mean I was letting rheumatoid arthritis win or giving up. It did not mean I did not care. It did not mean that it was not important. It simply meant that at that moment, caring for myself, and my mental and physical health, was more important. We often tell other people to do this, but do not feel the same freedom for ourselves. We feel like we must be “Superman/woman” and do it all and never stop. Why do we give others the grace we fail to give ourselves? Sometimes, we just need to get off the merry-go-round, regroup, and then step back out to face the world and our responsibilities. Sometimes, when we do this, we realize that it is OK to just let some things go.

When we do this, it is not only just OK but most likely the most important thing we can do. So, let’s give ourselves a break – both literally and figuratively. Give yourself the freedom to disengage, rest, refresh and regroup, and then decide how and when you are ready to jump back in. You must remember, you can’t take care of or care for other things if you are not first caring for yourself.

Getty image by ookawaphoto.

Originally published: September 13, 2021
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