If you’re newly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may be feeling a huge mix of emotions. On the one hand, you may be relieved to finally have a clear diagnosis after months or years of symptoms—but on the other hand, you may be angry, overwhelmed, and scared at the prospect of living with a chronic illness.
Let’s face it—a diagnosis of RA is overwhelming. No one plans on having a chronic illness or living with pain and fatigue. No one relishes the idea of countless doctor visits and medications.
If you’ve just been diagnosed with RA, it can feel like you’ve received more than your fair share of bad news. But here’s the good news: there have been dramatic strides in the treatment of RA in the past decade and it is possible to live well and thrive with RA. In fact, some of the newer treatments can actually slow the progression of the disease.
It’s okay—and normal—to feel scared, frustrated, sad, and overwhelmed. But, ideally you’ll also feel a strong sense of hope—because there is hope for helpful treatment, hope for relief from pain, and hope for a full and joyful life. You can live well after a diagnosis of RA. Here’s where to start:
1. Take a deep breath and let it sink in. Feel what you feel. You may be angry, sad, scared, lonely, or completely overwhelmed. Let yourself be. Give yourself the time and space to absorb the diagnosis and experience the full emotional impact of it.
2. Take charge. You are in charge of your healthcare. You may have an entire team of doctors, but ultimately you are the captain of the team. It’s up to you to be your own advocate. It’s up to you to keep track of your symptoms. It’s up to you to manage your health.
3. Get informed. Information is power. RA is a complicated disease. You’ll want to learn as much as you can about it so that you can manage your symptoms and disease as best as possible from here on out. In the beginning, it can feel like you’re learning a new language. It will get easier with time.
4. Find Dr. Right: Early, aggressive treatment of RA makes a big difference in slowing the progression of the disease. It’s important to find a qualified rheumatologist who can oversee your care from the outset. Ideally, you’ll have a long-term relationship with this doctor so you want it to be a good match. Ask for referrals and interview several doctors to find the one who is the right fit for you.
5. Get support. A diagnosis of RA can feel lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s important to find support and connection with others who have been there. There are a number of ways to find support—local support groups, online forums, individual counseling, and more. It’s especially important to enlist the support of your friends and family and to educate them about your condition and limitations.
6. Get connected. Stay connected with the RA community. While friends, family, and counselors can provide valuable emotional support, only others living with RA can really understand what you’re going through. The RA community is tight-knit—and technology and social media provide a unique opportunity to connect and share information. Often, your most valuable resource is other people with RA. They have a wealth of information and experience to share. Take advantage of it. Join theRAConnection.com
7. Take impeccable care of yourself. If you want to live well with RA, it’s important to make healthy lifestyle choices and take excellent care of yourself. Be sure to get plenty of rest, choose a healthy diet, and exercise if/when you are able. In addition, you may find it helpful to practice relaxation and stress prevention techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing. It’s always easier to stay healthy than it is to get healthy. Take care of yourself to stay as healthy as possible.