Rheumatoid arthritis sufferer Heather G. wants to share her personal story with practice in hopes of helping others in a similar situation.
Written by Heather G., a buddhify user since 2016
When I was diagnosed with early-onset rheumatoid arthritis four years ago, it was a shock. I was diagnosed at age 34. I couldn’t believe at such a young age that my body could essentially “break down”. As a psychiatrist, I was very aware of the mind-body connection and also knew of the link between rheumatoid arthritis and anxiety, which I was experiencing as a result of the diagnosis.
I have academic knowledge of the benefits of mindfulness and meditation for stress reduction and sleep, but I have also experienced it firsthand as an arthritis sufferer. Since both stress and poor sleep can exacerbate arthritis and other rheumatic diseases, I wanted to share with others a technique that could help reduce stress and improve sleep, which could then hopefully help better manage their physical symptoms.
Currently, I’m part of a local, peer-led support group for individuals coping with arthritis and rheumatic diseases. Each meeting, the group leaders gather input from members about preferred topics for the next meeting. So I proposed this topic since I have a background in mental health and had seen it work for myself. I joined forces with one of the group’s leaders, who was also very familiar with the subject, and we recently co-led a mindfulness meditation information session for the group.
Mindfulness meditation slows down my racing thoughts, makes me more relaxed, and helps me sleep better, thereby providing me with an additional tool for managing my pain.
The most common questions that came up were around how to do it, how to do it effectively, where to do it, and how to incorporate it into one’s schedule. Even individuals with prior meditation and mindfulness experience expressed concerns about if they were practicing correctly on their own, since they had never had any formal instruction.
To tackle these questions and concerns, we gave a PowerPoint presentation, which helped to define mindfulness and meditation and explain the impact it has at the level of the brain. Following that, I demonstrated the app in real time. I brought in an amp, hooked up my iPhone to the amp, and played several tracks so everyone could practice together.
I think what was most impactful was the simplicity and efficacy of the meditations. One group member tearfully said it was the first time she had successfully relaxed her body and mind. There was also a general consensus that meditation was now much less intimidating, as many group members had reported attempting meditation in the past, but found it difficult to do on their own.
One group member tearfully said it was the first time she had successfully relaxed her body and mind.
Back when I was first diagnosed, I was sick in a way I had never been before, and the fear was overwhelming. It took a while to adapt to the new “me”, but I now take the time to care for myself. I exercise, eat healthy, and sleep well in order to manage my symptoms. Additionally, one of the crucial forms of self-care I practice is mindfulness meditation.
Arthritis sufferers like myself commonly experience anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbance as a consequence of their conditions, all of which can worsen their pain. It’s a vicious cycle! Mindfulness meditation guides my mind into a state of focus and helps reduce my anxiety. It slows down my racing thoughts, makes me more relaxed, and helps me sleep better, thereby providing me with an additional tool for managing my pain.
Heather G. is based in Atlanta, Georgia. The two tracks she played for her support group are Replace (Stress & Difficult Emotion 1) and Releasing (Going to Sleep 1), both of which she highly recommends to other individuals with arthritis or chronic pain issues. You can access the categories and tracks mentioned above from the Default wheel or Tough Times wheel.
If you feel you have learnt something important through your meditation practice and you’d like your share your insight or experience we’d love to hear from you. Let Dana know via [email protected] and she’ll get in touch.