I look down at my hands and I can’t quite figure out why the joints are so red and swollen today. I’ve spent the last three years managing my rheumatoid arthritis (RA), so I know how to self-manage effectively.
Except I’m not managing my RA right now.
I realize this as I run through my self-management checklist in my head. I forgot to take my medication this morning, and I can’t remember whether I took it yesterday. I have barely done any exercise in the last two weeks, my diet is all over the place, my sleep is broken and I haven’t even had any fresh air or sunshine in nearly a week. No wonder my joints are bad.
I face the reality that I’m no longer self-managing my RA. I know why this has happened, and I’m at a loss for what to do about it.
Two weeks ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. He turned up early and was only a little guy, so we have faced the challenges many parents with premature babies have. We have spent as much of his life in the hospital as we have at home. We went to the emergency room two times after he became unresponsive and stopped feeding. My son has had a rough start to life.
I look down at my hands and realize they’re a physical reflection of that rough start. I can’t put my needs first as I have an unwell baby to care for. Therefore, my usual self-management plan has gone out the window. The problem is, though, how do I care for him if I’m unwell? This is a conundrum I have never faced before while living with rheumatoid arthritis. How do I balance my care needs and my son’s needs? I battle in my head whether it’s selfish to try to meet my needs more.
After much agonizing, I understand I can only start with what I know works. I take my medication, and I make a promise to myself that no matter how tired I am I will take it every day. I will take it because I have a son who needs a mom who can button up his clothes. I pack the nappy bag and carriage, so that after his next feed, we can go for a walk outside. I will exercise and get some fresh air because my son needs a mom who can hold him when he cries. I eat a banana rather than the prepackaged junk food in the cupboard. I will resume my low-inflammation diet because my son needs a mom who can fasten the tabs on his diaper.
I realize that self-managing my RA is not about putting my needs first. It’s about ensuring my son has a mom who is well enough to meet his needs and that’s OK.
Finally, I write this all down. I know there will come another day when I look down and see red, swollen joints. On that day, I will read this back and remind myself the need to self-manage my RA didn’t stop when I gave birth, rather it became more important than ever.