4 Life Lessons since being Diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis
Some life musings as I sit in an airport, hilariously early for a flight.
(My wife's need to be 18 hours early for a flight, apparently it's a 'non-negotiable'.)
1. Everything is Relative
Before being diagnosed, I was a bit of a gym head. Not 'shirtless selfies in the dressing room' or anything; I just loved the gym. So watching my body change was a strange one.
Going from a healthy 87kg to a 63kg stiff bag of bones was tough.
But it's crazy how fast your mind can reset.
Being the resilient creatures we are, we have an amazing ability to acclimate to our situation.
Previously I would leave the gym frustrated if I didn't hit a big lift. Months later, I was skipping out the door, delighted that I could sit down and stand up ten times or move my arm over my head.
After the initial shock of what was happening, I readjusted to my new relative base, my new level of expectation.
From there, any progress was celebrated, regardless of how pathetic that progress may seem relative to what I could do a few months previous.
Two things stood out to me.
• Your emotions are acutely linked to your expectations
• When it comes to overall happiness, your starting point is far less important than your direction of travel.
Progress is all that matters.
2.Happiness is Illusive
In what is an uncharacteristically nihilistic take, I reckon the whole 'pursuit of happiness' thing is a hoax.
A poetic sentiment that functions as the de facto end goal for an entire global population but when you think about it, it doesn't hold much substance in real life.
Happiness? What even is it? It's way too vague a term.
For a goal to be actionable, it needs to be specific.
As a result, I have decided to work towards a different life goal.
The pursuit of excitement.
I have decided to build my life around things that get me out of bed in the morning.
It may not be the perfect solution, but it is a far more actionable endeavour.
The difference is that a life you are excited to wake up to won't necessarily make you 'happy'. Happiness certainly isn't the first emotion that comes to mind as I crumble under the workload of starting a business or wave goodbye to my family when I move across the world.
A life of excitement is filled with anxiety, hard work and stress, but that's ok because the ultimate enemy here is boredom.
"The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference and the opposite of happiness is not sadness, it's boredom"
Do stuff that excites you, go after your passion.
It may not guarantee eternal happiness, but it's as close as we're going to get.
A BIT INVESTING. A BIT PERSONAL
3. Attitude is Everything
In Viktor frankls 'A Man's Search for Meaning' he gives a first-hand account of the harrowing plight of prisoners in concentration camps during World War II
He speaks of the different reactions of his fellow prisoners to their incarceration.
• Some took their own life
• Some lived in denial
• Some turned on their fellow inmates
• Some rose above and strived to help those around them despite their situation.
Prisoners, all burdened by the same bleak circumstances, had distinctly different reactions.
"It is never your circumstances but your attitude towards those circumstances that dictate the outcome."
And you will always have control of your attitude. Nobody can take that from you.
‘Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him-mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp.’ ― Viktor Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning”
Sometimes it's a lot harder than others, but if Viktor Frankl managed it under Nazi suppression… I'm not sure we have much of an excuse.
This one helped me a lot.
When your body is falling apart it's easy to let everything else fall apart as well.. but you can't.
At the start, for me, everything went out the window. My physical pain killed my ambition, killed my drive, stole my positivity.
I was letting it ruin every part of my life.
I was waking up writing off the day, being a misery to those around me. I was letting my physical pain destroy my relationships, my work.
But in reality, it didn't have to. I was letting that happen. Me.
So much of what was going wrong was completely within my control.
Perception is reality. And no one can make you perceive your reality other than how you choose to perceive it.
That mantra just plays on repeat in my head.
PERCEPTION IS REALITY.
Ultimately life is one non-stop monologue with yourself so you always have the ability to dictate your attitude.
Whether it's journaling, meditations, mantras. Do whatever you can to realise your attitude and change it if you need to.
Only you can tell yourself how to think.
So watch the way you speak to yourself. Be your own best friend and remember attitude trumps circumstance every time.
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4. Everyone has Their own Cross to Bear
One thing I noticed from sharing my RA story was that everyone is going through something.
Once I opened-up about what I was struggling with, they would do the same. Like an uncontrollable reflex.
Close friends who would never have shared these things with me before were suddenly sharing issues I never knew they had.
In Ireland, we love to carry on as if everything's 'grand'
It's ok if there not.
Share a struggle with someone, especially If you think they might be struggling too. It will open the door to some powerful and meaningful conversations.
We're all going through something.
There will always be ups and downs, and I'm still finding my way in the dark like everyone else, but if you are struggling, just reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org . I'll help whatever way I can,