20 January 2020
Forget Resolutions — This is how I turned my life around with arthritis
By Tom Roberts, Arthritis Action Member
2019 was quite a year.
I have osteoarthritis in my hands, feet, knees and lower back. Both my feet have been operated on to alleviate the effects of arthritis, and I have a replacement knee. I also have chronic neuropathic pain following a severe case of shingles over two years ago. This means that managing pain has become a routine part of daily life. At first I used to resent the discomfort, then I realised that it made no difference to the pain, but it did make me feel worse. So then when I discovered that 98% of the population will have arthritis, in some form, to some degree before they die, I realised that it is a part of the human condition. It is going to happen, you are fortunate if it doesn’t. Even my dog had it as she got older. The walking round in circles to curl up on my lap ceased, and she would come and lie as close as possible, and I would sit on the floor for her.
The key thing I believe is to develop a personal philosophy of ‘Life’. It’s not easy, but it is essential for every one of us. The primary responsibility for my health and wellbeing is me of course. I may need others at times, at a personal level maybe, family & friends, therapists and doctors, advisors when I need them, and support from charities like Arthritis Action, but when it comes down to it, it’s me that lives with me 24/7. If I don’t love and care for me, then how can I expect anyone else to?
It starts with the usual suspects:
Diet — when I first accepted that I have arthritis, and it was not going away, I realised I needed to do much research and reading, and look for ways to build a positive approach into my lifestyle. Something that would last me for the rest of my life. The first aspect for me was diet. I wanted to make changes that would help me, and that I could enjoy. I ditched meat and went vegetarian, fish and cheese, and in all honesty in a general sense, I’ve never felt better. This was 25 years ago.
Activity — After back injury I was introduced to yoga as a way of enhancing posture, I enjoyed it and did classes for about seven years, discovering that there is much more to it than the physical control. I participated, then demonstrated, in exercise to music classes, then taught my own. Then the kicker was being diagnosed with arthritis, and having foot operations to ease the strain on my toe joints. After that I could not run, so I found myself casting around for things I could do. Yoga was fine, and I’ve always been a swimmer.
Over the years a number of therapists, physios, osteopaths, have given me exercises to do, and I keep doing them. So my morning yoga stretches have expanded to include a whole array of exercises that suit me. This year, at the age of 72, I upgraded my swim & sauna membership to include the gym. I’d never used a gym before, but the friendly staff at Warwick University’s new sports complex showed me how to use the machines to help strengthen my core again, legs after operations, and achieve general balance.
Social — Joining in with others and doing something is the best way to find someone who can actually listen and understand how you feel. It is a two way exchange and they will have their issues as well. Being able to listen and not judge…offer help where you can, and you both benefit. Arthritis Action runs Groups across the UK, and I attend my local one in Coventry.
I think it is necessary to find ‘me’ things that work. I know that heat in a sauna helps my discomfort, so when the sports centre one I used was no longer in operation, I thought I can’t have this! So I searched for someone to install my own in an old converted garage.
The other thing that has become very personal, is learning self-hypnosis. I was offered the chance to learn as part of an academic study into the possible benefit to men in my age group. I’m not the therapist, but I have learned how to use it, and now I personalise it for my own needs.
I’m not a fan of the notion of Resolutions. There is a whole set of implications around them that suggests you are not doing things which you should have been, and there is an area of guilt around that which I find negative. Rather I would prefer to approach life in a more positive way, doing things which I know benefit me. And by sorting me out not only do I enjoy ‘Life’ more, but others around me do as well. I have learned since my wife left 30 years ago that I can actually do ‘Life’ by myself, not that I want to, but knowing I am capable is a grounding from which I can do and share things with others, including the ones I love and care about.’
Lastly — take pleasure in the little things. That is something I learned from my mother in law….a cup of tea, sunshine on your back, watching a pint of Guinness settle, listening to the rain…or your favourite music. There are a lot of good things when you think about it!