I Can. Can You?

“How do you have the energy to do all that?!  I’d be exhausted!”  That’s a comment I’ve heard quite a bit these past few weeks.  Truth be told, I am exhausted.  I’m also mighty happy to be accomplishing things.

Instead of avoiding taxing activities, I try to find the most efficient (and least expensive) way to get them done.  Yes, I get tired.  No, I can’t work a full-time job and then spend seven hours in the evening canning fruit like I did twenty years ago, but I can still manage to put enough by that we have food to eat without wondering how to pronounce all the chemicals on an ingredient label.

My tips for how I manage canning season with RA would just as easily apply to other situations:

Know Your Limitations
In preserving foods, the hardest part, for me, is picking.  There’s much more fruit than I’m physically able to pick – especially when the fruit is overhead and my rotator cuffs don’t want to do their job.  When I pick, I pick from the lower branches, and leave the upper branches for people who are a) taller, b) tree-climbers, or c) comfortable picking from ladders.  I know my limitations.

It can be difficult admitting that we have limitations.  We’d like to think we’re invincible.  RA teaches us otherwise.  Work with what you have.  Whether it’s canning or anything else, knowing our limitations is important.

Work Smart
One of my favorite quotes, by R.G. LeTourneau, is “Work smart, not hard.”

I look for ways to work smart.  When heavily laden branches are relieved of their burden, the boughs rise – usually several feet.   If I started picking apples closest to the ground, and worked my way upward, the branches would quickly spring up out of my reach, limiting how many apples I’d be able to pick.  Instead, I start picking as high as I can reach.  As the empty branches move upward, the lower apples are still within reach.  I’m able to pick much more by grabbing those upper apples before they move too high.

That’s true with the rest of life, too.  Hard isn’t required.  Focus on working smart.

Accept Help
Sometimes we want to prove we’re capable of doing things on our own, but it’s okay to accept help.  People want to help.  After canning twelve lug of peaches, knowing I’d be starting on apples next, I posted about it on Facebook.  The responses included:

If we put one more person in the kitchen for peaches, we’d be tripping over one another.  Apples are a different story.  Apples are tons more work than peaches, and I need help. I have to set aside my pride and ask – or accept help when it’s offered.  People really do want to help.

I’ve been thinking about this.  My children have no qualms about inviting friends over to help them pick apples.  The apples need to be picked, and it’s fun to do things with friends, so they invite friends over.  Everyone has a lot of fun. One weekend my daughters and their friend had been picking apples for about an hour when I heard a knock at the door.  It was the friend’s parents.  They’d heard we had apples to pick and wanted to help.

Whether it’s canning season, or grocery shopping, or working in an office, accept help!

Develop Efficient Processes
Know what you need to do, then figure out the best way to do it.  Apples and peaches, rhubarb and cherries, as well as beans, corn, and pumpkin are all very different foods; they need different processes.  It can be hard to break away from the habit of doing things the way we’ve always done them, but it’s a good idea to step back, analyze what’s truly needed, then eliminate all the extra (unneeded) steps to fine-tune your workflow.  Make everything as efficient as possible.

Always ask if there’s a better way to do things.  For example, every recipe I’ve ever seen for applesauce involves putting cut-up apples into a pot on the stove-top, adding apple juice/cider, then cooking carefully to avoid scorching the food.  My shoulders don’t like all that stirring.  My feet do not like standing at the stove long enough to cook apples down into sauce.  I’m guessing yours don’t, either.  There’s no need!  It’s significantly easier to make applesauce a different way.

It doesn’t apply only to canning applesauce.  I’ve found ways to streamline many different tasks.  Never settle for doing things the way others have always done them.  Aim for efficiency.

Life with rheumatoid arthritis can be tricky.  To make things easier, it’s a good idea sometimes to pause, analyze situations, know your limitations, accept help, develop efficient processes, and work smart.

Flare

flareSo much for remission.  It was good while it lasted.  Swollen feet and stiff hands/wrists are not how I like starting my days.  Recently my feet have been so sore that I’ve caught myself thinking that if I had one of those blue parking tags, I’d actually use it when I’m at the store.  That’s not something I ever thought I’d say.

This flare is affecting basic activities.  Tuesday night I went shopping and couldn’t even pick up my groceries normally.  I felt like a two-year-old with one hand on each side of the boxes so that I could get them into my cart.

In trying to figure out what changed (did anything perhaps cause this flare), I realized that I am beat!  With one child running track, and another playing baseball, it seems like I’ve been constantly on the go. These sports are in addition to the kids’ usual activities (violin, piano, lawn care job, scouts, youth group, getting ready for college…), but the two new sports seem to have pushed things over the edge.  I’m exhausted.

I’ve tried to pace myself and let some things slide since life has gotten so hectic.  That means there are dirty dishes in my kitchen sink and I’m sitting at the computer resting instead of cleaning the kitchen.  All the laundry has been washed, but it has not been folded or put away (to tell the truth, I’m happy it’s not still in the dryer, and figure people will go find their clothes when they need them).  Despite looking for ways to get some rest and not over do it, I’m exhausted.  Maybe that’s why my joints are rebelling.

My kids are trying to help.  Some people cringe at the thought of teenage drivers, but I have to say that I am thrilled to have assistance with transportation.  Unlike God, I cannot be two places at the same time.   Music lessons are 12:30-2:30, and track practice is 2:00-4:00.  Track meets are 3:30-6:00, and baseball games are 5:30-8 (sometimes in cities an hour away from each other). My daughters have been fabulous in helping out with all the driving so their brothers can participate in team sports for the first time in their lives.

Honestly, if I have to deal with a flare so that my boys can play sports and have this happy memory to look back on, I can live with a flare.  It’s worth it.  It broke my heart, when my son asked about sports this year, to discover that my daughter had wanted to turn out for volleyball back when she was that age.  She never even asked, and has felt deprived all this time, because that was the year I was diagnosed.  RA affects entire families in ways we might not even know about until later.  We had a couple pretty crummy years, and I have no idea how I could possibly have gotten any of the kids to any extra activities back then.

Despite the flare, things are way better than they were five years ago.  I don’t yelp in pain when I roll out of bed in the morning.  I’m able to sleep at night without waking in pain every time I roll onto a bursa (and my vocabulary now includes words like “trochanter”).  I can (usually) lift my arms.  Yes, I hurt.  My hands, my feet, my shoulders… But this is just a flare.

Flares burn for a while warning that there’s a problem, and then they’re gone.  Maybe, just maybe, this flare is warning me to pace myself better.  With any luck, if I heed the warning, the flare will die out.

Just Arthritis – NOT

Before a diagnosis of RA, it’s common for friends to know you haven’t been feeling well.  If they’re good friends, after you’ve been to the doctor they inquire about the results.  For some inexplicable reason, when we say, “The doctor diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis,” listeners only hear four of those five words.  “Rheumatoid” seems to be inaudible when spoken.

Fortunately, we don’t have to remain stuck with the frustration that occurs when people hear “arthritis” without comprehending “rheumatoid” and respond, “Oh, I have that in my neck/knee/little finger.”  Usually, I don’t think my health is anyone’s business, but good friends are an exception.  If I know someone well enough to tell them that I have RA, then I know them well enough to explain why RA is not “just arthritis.”

When people respond as if I’m discussing osteoarthritis, I’ve had very good luck smiling and saying, “Oh, you’re thinking of OA.  There are nearly 100 different types of arthritis.  I have RA.”

It’s quite simple to quickly explain that OA is what people have when a joint wears out due to overuse, but RA is completely different.  RA occurs when the immune system goes postal and starts attacking multiple joints and organs, too.

I remember a few years ago my riding instructor shrugging off my stiffness, saying that we all feel stiff sometimes.  I waited a day, then sent email to explain the situation:

“Three years ago I was diagnosed with a disease that means my immune system is overactive.  It doesn’t distinguish between my body and foreign invaders.  The immune system is supposed to attack germs so that we don’t get sick.  My immune system does that, but it also attacks the synovial fluid surrounding my joints, the enthesis (where tendons attach), my skin, and pretty much anything else it feels like attacking without giving me any say in the matter…

While RA can cause OA, RA is not “just arthritis.”  There is a huge difference, and I’ve had tremendous response when giving people a brief explanation of the distinction between the two.