It’s not easy to practice self-love, no matter who you are. For people living with a chronic condition such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – an autoimmune disease of the joints1 that affects approximately 1.6 million people in the United States,2,3 – it can feel even more overwhelming to love a body that doesn’t always cooperate with you.
Rheumatoid arthritis can create body image challenges by causing painful, swollen joints and inflammation in the hands, knees and feet that may make you feel like you’re not yourself, and that your body is betraying you. RA is often referred to as an “invisible” illness that also contributes to many emotional and physical symptoms, like fatigue and joint damage, that can’t be seen from the outside. These symptoms can impact self-esteem for people who are living with RA. If you feel like you are fighting your body, it isn’t a surprise that body image and self-esteem may be a source of struggle and frustration.
Further, poor body-image may come from a lack of public representation. For people living with RA, not being “present” in mass media can make it challenging to see their experiences and their body as normal – even though there is no “normal.” There is no one way to be, and we do a huge disservice when diversity of all kinds is missing from what we see and/or consume.
Practicing self-love and self-care is important in feeling comfortable with relationships too. It can be difficult to engage in meaningful and healthy relationships and friendships without a good dose of confidence and care for yourself. If we don’t feel good about who we are, we may be less likely to speak up for ourselves, less likely to have – or ask for – pleasure, and less likely to have equal, balanced relationships.
We only have one body, and it’s important to come up with strategies to remind ourselves that no one is perfect and we should love who we are. Check out these tips that may help address self-love while living with a chronic condition like RA:
Make time to self-reflect: Think about what makes you feel good. When do you feel most beautiful? Most confident? Sexiest? Capitalize on those times and think about what those experiences have in common. Is it music? Is it a smell? Is it a particular texture? Can we commit to finding a few moments in each day to breathe and shift our focus from frustration to positivity?Write it down: Keeping a daily journal of your feelings can help you identify areas that you need to work on both mentally and emotionally. It can be difficult to realize that you need to improve self-love until you see it written down on paper. Send yourself reminders: Leave Post-it® notes or set spontaneous calendar alarms throughout the year to inspire you and remind you to practice self-love.Don’t keep it all inside: While self-love is very personal, it doesn’t mean you should bottle up your feelings. Tell a partner, friend or even a professional about your feelings and lean on them for support.Life isn’t perfect, but if you give yourself the freedom to love the skin you have, you may be far better off. For more tips on self-love and relationships while living with RA, visit www.Arthritis.com.
1. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services. Handout on health: rheumatoid arthritis. August 2014.
http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Rheumatic_Disease/default.asp. Accessed 22 March 2017.
2. Sacks J, Lou Y, Helmick, C. Prevalence of specific types of arthritis and other rheumatic conditions in the ambulatory health care system in the United States 2001-2005. Arthritis Care Res. 2010;62(4):460-464.
3. Howden L, Meyer J. 2010 U.S. Census Bureau results — U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census Summary File 1.