Monday, May 16, 2011

Support The RA Troops

Today's blog is all about support groups and the importance of having people in your life that can relate to what you are going through. No matter what your situation is, what your health issues are, a good support system is key. I don't care if you are as healthy as a horse, (where did that saying come from by the way? horses can get sick. . . ) people thrive when they have a circle of friends and family who love and support them through their decisions in life.

Mom, Sister, & Me.

As I've said a million times, I hope that my blog can be a means of support and encouragement for others out there who might be living with RA and feeling alone, or feeling like there is no hope. Especially in young people, the idea of living your life with rheumatoid arthritis seems so limiting, and daunting, and sad. Can you really live a normal, happy life?

Yes you can, and I hope that I can be proof of that.

I'm in no way saying my life is perfect. Far from it. And like every other person in the world, I have my bad days and I have my good ones. But I am happy despite all that has happened in my life. The positives greatly outweigh the negatives. And I remind myself that every day.

Life is beautiful, even with RA.

When I was newly diagnosed, I was lucky enough to know a woman with RA. Her name is Carol and she is a client of my mom's and she is amazing. She's gorgeous, upbeat, energetic, and has a husband and two young boys. Something about her is so inspiring.

Being a young, barely teenage girl, the last thing I wanted to do was talk about it. I much preferred to pretend nothing was wrong with me and move on. And what I loved about Carol was that she didn't need to talk about it. Unless I brought it up, she and I would just talk about whatever else was on our minds. And I loved that.

This 13 year old goof-face had RA.

The best thing I got from her wasn't advice on how to deal with the pain, or how to properly give myself shots (though that was definitely helpful). It was that I simply knew someone who had the exact same thing that I had, and she was living a happy, normal life. She wasn't visibly depressed or in constant, doubled over pain. She wasn't using a walker and she wasn't wearing ugly, rounded, old-people shoes. She was a beautiful woman coming to my mom's salon to get her hair done and chatting and laughing and having a great time.

I thought, "Wow, you really can live with this disease and be happy."

And ever since then, that has always been something I keep in mind.

I still stay in touch with Carol. When I was going through my troubles this fall, she was the person I called to cry to. And she understood exactly what I was going through, and seemed to be able to say all the things that I couldn't put into words. It was like she knew exactly what I was thinking at that very moment, and she helped me figure it out when I was so confused by my own thoughts.

After talking to her I was confident, and able to go to my doctor and tell him how I was feeling. Able to communicate better with my husband, since I was now able to understand exactly what I needed. And knowing that what I'm feeling isn't crazy and pathetic, it was normal. It was an amazing transformation.

I recently met a young girl, Monica, who was newly diagnosed with RA. She happened to be my best friend's 11 year old little sister. Hearing about her, it was like I was put into a time machine and listening to someone talk about myself when I was young. I knew exactly what this girl was going through. I had been there. I could easily predict what would happen next and how she would react. It was a great trick, always impressive.

Just wait for it, next she'll be doing this . . . 

She's going through this right now and this is how she'll need to deal with it . . . 

It was as if I was looking back at my own youth and this time I had all the answers to the questions.

From left to right: Monica, me, Melissa

I couldn't believe how much it seemed like fate that I was able to be there for her. I immediately asked my friend to bring her up to Bellingham and let me take the two of them out to lunch.

That day, I didn't say one word about arthritis. I didn't need to. That wasn't the point. The point I was hoping to make was the same point that Carol made to me: that it is possible to live a happy, normal life with RA.

My friend mentioned to me later that she thought we would be talking about what it's like living with it and yadda yadda yadda. I told her to wait, and she'll see that our lunch date would have an even bigger impact than if I were to blabber on about my knees.

And it did.

I've made myself available to this girl and her family so that whenever they need someone to talk to, or connect with, I am here for them. Sometimes the best thing is knowing that there's someone else out there who understands.

 Oh Niki . . .

And sometimes you just need to talk to someone else. Someone other than your family members and your doctors. You need to talk to someone who has gone through, or is currently going through the same thing you are. Because they are the only people who can really, 100% understand.

I hope, more than anything in the world, that my blog has helped some of you. I hope that reading about my life and my struggles has helped you not to feel so alone in the world.

There are a few sources out there, especially on the internet, that can help connect you with other people with arthritis. Not many, but a few. The Arthritis Foundation has a decent forum that you can check out. I visit there every once in a while. More recently I've turned to Facebook for communicating with others. The Arthritis Foundation's Facebook Page has introduced me to many people, as well as has the page RA Chicks: Women with Rheumatoid Arthritis. RA Chicks has actually turned into a great source for myself, as it consists of many women who talk about every subject out there dealing with their arthritis. It's proven to be a great support group.

The danger with using the internet to connect is that it has the potential to have an adverse effect. Sometimes you'll find that people use the internet to simply discuss the negative aspects of their conditions. Sometimes people just need to vent which is completely understandable. But for someone looking for something positive to help them get over their struggles, learning about some people's debilitating issues can be a downer. There are many websites that I just don't go to because they bring me down rather than lift me up.

So be aware that there are some people out there that, yes, have extreme forms of these troubles and they just need to let out their frustration sometimes. But with every negative comment out there, there is a great, optimistic, encouraging one. There are many out there who simply want to find someone out there to help them stay positive.

And I hope that you all feel you can find that encouragement here if you need it! I'm all about sharing those positive vibes!

And just to end this off on a high note, here's something to hopefully put you in a good mood . . .

I swear I'm not choking my niece. She just makes that face for fun.

Didn't work? Alright how about this . . . 
 Who can keep a straight face while looking at that photo?

Alright, alright, how about this. We're going for the "aw" factor now . . . 
Who wouldn't be happy having this sweet blogging buddy on your lap? 
This little face makes everything worth it.

Cheers everyone! Now go do something nice for yourself! :-)

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