The Siren Magazine

What Having Arthritis as a 20 Year-Old Has Taught Me About Self-Care

The Siren Magazine

By: Fiona Byrne

The stereotypical prescription of self-care is crawling into bed with a pint of ice cream and Netflix, and suspending your life for a few hours. I have done this more times than I can count, but I no longer see it as a cure-all.

Having chronic pain has taught me a lot about what pain really is. Sometimes, pain is a warning. Other times, pain is just a complaint. Pain can be your body expressing fear of the unfamiliar, like the ache of trying to move a joint in a way you haven’t in awhile, or the sting of letting someone go. Just because it is something you need to do, doesn’t mean it won’t hurt.

It took me a while to learn that pain can be a choice. I have little control over whether or not the fluid in my joints is inflamed, but it is up to me how I react to the fact that I can’t open a jar or twist a doorknob. I can let it break me, I can pity myself, or I can fall down the slippery slope of fear that I won’t be able to put my children’s socks on one day. But I can also laugh at the absurdity of the situation, and appreciate the irony that I have kind of always been a grandma anyway.

Self-care, for me, means doing what you need to do to make it to tomorrow, but also doing what you need to do to make it to ten years from now. The bubble bath prescription helps short term, but I have found a quick solution cannot be sustainable on its own. For one, I don’t need that many baths. Though, short term immediate self-care is important because it keeps you going—and surviving. But once you get to a place where you are consistently surviving, you owe it to yourself to do more.

What I suggest, is finding a way to source self-care. Through compassion and love—internally—so that it can radiate out towards the external. If your self-care comes from the inside, then it is a well that won’t dry up.

You’re not dependent on the bath aisle of Rite-Aid or the offerings of an online video streaming service. Self-care from the inside can be done anywhere, any time, and it can keep you going. For me, it takes the form of positive af rmation. It is hard to believe until you try it, but you really can change your own mind using positive af rmations.

Here is a list of a few from a Huffington Post article by clinical psychologist Dr. Carmen Harra:

1. I am courageous and I stand up for myself.
2. Today, I abandon my old habits and take up new, more positive ones.

3. Many people look up to me and recognize my worth; I am admired.
4. I am a powerhouse; I am indestructible.
5. Though these times are dif cult, they are only a short phase of life.

It is important to note that in saying or thinking these affirmations, you are not lying to yourself. You are enabling yourself to observe positive things around you that negative thoughts may have blocked you from noticing. The pain in my body is not going to go away anytime soon. By refusing to let it have power over me, I am actively choosing life, and exercising that agency makes me feel pretty damn strong.