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Putting the “Me” in “Time” with Rheumatoid Arthritis

As a working mother of two young children, I constantly feel like there’s never enough time to accomplish all my tasks. There are always dishes to wash, baskets of laundry to fold, bills to pay, emails to reply to, errands to run, spills to clean up, meals to cook, sibling squabbles to attend to, bedtime stories to read, and on and on. It feels as if while I’m completing one task, another two sprout up, similar to that mythical multi-headed hydra who grew two new heads each time one was cut off. Indeed, having an entirely completed to-do list seems like it would require efforts of heroic proportions.

I often try to be that “hero.” I attempt to accomplish a lot, and I also try to be as effective as possible in all of my various responsibilities. In the six years since I became a mom, I have found that the oft-repeated phrase about parenting, that it’s “the best and hardest job there is,” has rung true for me. In an effort to be as effective at this incredibly difficult job of parenting as possible, I often read advice from trusted sources. One of these is Dr. Laura Markham’s Aha! Parenting website. Recently, I read her series of articles entitled “The Secret of the Full Cup.” The metaphor that runs through this series is that we each have an emotional reservoir that can be depleted, like an empty cup, or that we can keep replenished. When we take care of ourselves by getting enough sleep and exercise, breathing deeply through stressful moments, and allowing for relaxation, we fill our cups. She posits that when one’s cup is full, we are able to meet difficult moments with more patience and grace, whereas when our cups are empty we’re more liable to overreact to stressors, such as yelling at a child when she spills a drink.

Living with rheumatoid arthritis, I often feel like this disease is a leak in my emotional cup, causing it to drain faster than it should. The pain this condition causes can make being patient, understanding, and calm far more challenging. In addition, the fatigue of RA can feel debilitating at times. It’s tough to be emotionally available when absolutely exhausted. Furthermore, RA is not just a hole in my emotional cup, it’s a leak in my physical reserves as well. When I am tired and continue to try to push through it, my compromised immune system is less able to fight off colds and infections, and flares are also more likely. It’s almost as if my body senses the leak in my reserves, and with a defeated attitude just goes ahead and dumps what’s left of my health and energy out rather than searching for ways to plug up the holes.

This makes it all the more important to take the time to nourish my physical and emotional needs before my cup starts running empty. Replenishing my supply with some “me” time, whether in the form of a midday nap, reading a novel, watching a funny tv show, or spending time with a girlfriend, helps calm both my RA and my frazzled nerves. Ironically, it can be hard to do things I enjoy and that feel good. Whenever I spend time nurturing myself, there’s always a guilty little voice in the back of my head saying, “You should really be cleaning/working/grocery shopping/playing with the kids/etc.” I have to tune out this voice and remind myself that I will be happier and healthier if I take the time to nurture my needs. Doing so can keep a mild flare from turning into a severe one, can keep a cold from turning into severe illness, and can keep annoyances and irritations from feeling like enormous challenges.

While my to-do list can feel like a ferocious beast, sometimes it’s my own inner critic that is far more important to slay. Being my own hero doesn’t always mean that I am accomplishing great feats, but rather that I’m acknowledging, honoring, and nurturing my body’s needs, responding to that guilty little voice with a resounding yell of, “I’m worth it!”

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