Carrying All That Baggage is Just Going to Make Your Hands Hurt Worse: The Role of Thought in RA, part 1

So I want to talk about how our thoughts can actually make us sicker, but it is such a complicated subject that I have decided to break it up into several posts.  This is, of course, the first in the series.  Please feel free, in fact, I encourage you to ask questions!  Ask them here, on the Facebook page, or email me.  Thanks again everybody! 

Patrice on Antidepresents

I didn’t do so well on antidepressants.  Yeah, I could get out of bed and get dressed.  I couldn’t help but smile, but all I wanted to do was cry.  The pills just masked my pain.  It was a miserable and very unnatural existence. After several months, my doctor wanted to add an anti-anxiety, but by then I couldn’t wait to be done with pills altogether.  I felt like Ren when Stimpy tricked him into putting on the happy helmet.  Much like Ren, if I could have taken a hammer to my head to stop what those pills were doing, I would have.  (If you don’t know who Ren and Stimpy are, search them on YouTube.  They are hilarious, if not a bit strange, relics of the 1990’s, not to mention, icons of my youth).

So I dumped the pills, but the black depression remained.  In fact, it had just gotten worse since beginning the antidepressants.  You see, I was supposed to be “SOMEBODY.”  Not some loser’s “baby-mama.” I just wasn’t “THAT” girl.  I had earned my first college degree at 18 and had plans of attending the University of Texas and traveling the world to teach; it was all set into place.  All that was left for me to do was go.  Instead, I flushed it all away and got pregnant.  All I can say is that the regret I felt was crippling, but my perspective, the beliefs I had about myself, and the situation made it far worse… 

Sure, my story may be sad to some, but what is even sadder is that it was years before I was able to undo all the emotional damage I caused.  Not just to my self-esteem and confidence, but to my body and specifically my joints.  It didn’t have to be this way; I had a choice, I just didn’t know it.  I wish somebody had told me sooner that life a series of learning opportunities, not mistakes.  Things happen for a reason; how we deal with the unexpected is only a test of our character.  Besides, when in life does anything ever go exactly according to plan?  Never.  The future is unknown, so we can never anticipate what will happen.   We must be ready to embrace whatever life throws at us, whether it be by choice, as consequence, or purely by chance.

The point is that my story is no more or less “tragic” than anyone elses, and EVERYONE has a story.  How we choose to deal with life when it doesn’t go our way determines how many emotional bandages we decide to carry through life.

Thoughts are very complex constructs of the mind.  Our brains are always thinking.  Most of the time we aren’t even aware of it; thoughts just flicker in the mind for a split second.  However, whether conscious or subconscious, fleeting or deep, they all get sorted and attached to an emotion.  Most thoughts may be classified as “indifferent” but the point is, they are ALL classified AND they are ALL stored somewhere in the brain, either in the conscious or sub-conscious. With time, the thoughts may fade, but the emotions remain and begin to pile up, like pennies in a jar.  The mind can only hold the weight of emotion for so long before the rest of the body is called in to help out.  Hello disease!

The thought-emotion relationship is often overlooked or even dismissed as a source (or at the very least, a major contributor) of disease and pain.  It is much more acceptable to keep patients chemically oblivious to their internal pain.  In fact, it is so acceptable, that more than half of the United States have been prescribed antidepressants.  I am sure there are cases where pills help, but it cannot be denied that little is being done to address the issues that warranted the need for the pills in the first place…..

I don’t have rheumatoid arthritis because I inherited from grandma.  Well, maybe that may have a little to do with it, but not as much as the manner in which  I have dealt with my emotions throughout my life.  I am an intense person, I feel strongly about stuff and I haven’t always had the skills required to deal with all my emotion. The result is that my emotions, left unchecked,  manifest themselves as arthritis pain.   The real kick in the crotch is that once the pain hits, I am less able to manage my emotions, and I am more likely to become aware of other disappointments that I have yet to deal with.  It is like I have an internal cesspool that churns up all the emotional garbage that I have tried to forget.  This all adds up to more pain, and more pain leads to depression, and then to hopelessness.  The whole process is a vicious cycle.  Many of us RA’ers (and AI’ers) really never have a chance; we are doomed to be trapped by our emotional demons.

It was when a herbalist friend of mine gave me a book called, Feelings Buried Alive Never Die, by Karol Truman, that I started to begin to understand the relationship between emotion and  disease.  Now I don’t believe that emotions by themselves hold the key to autoimmune cause and cure, but I do know from my own experience that our minds play a pivotal role in our health and our ability to heal.  According to Truman, rheumatoid arthritis is associated with “the body receiving mixed messages [from the mind]; like laughing on the outside, but crying on the inside.”  Additionally,  the feeling of being, “totally helpless in [the] ability to change life’s burdens.”  She also contends that inflexibility and rigidity in life is manifested in diseases affecting the joints.  If you recall my story from earlier, you know that I could totally relate to what this author was saying….

I realize I haven’t gone as far as I need to, but this is already really long so…..stay tuned for more on thought.  Same Pat-time, same Pat-channel….

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Morgan
    Aug 18, 2010 @ 16:41:39

    I have been dealing with an anxiety disorder since I was sixteen, which means that it has been almost fifteen years. I have had good periods where I had absolutely no anxiety and bad periods where I had trouble leaving the house. During the harder times, I always had a health problem that went along with it. One time it was migraines, then back pain, and then irritable bowel syndrome. Almost a year ago I went through the worst anxiety I have ever dealt with and many things that I would do on a normal basis became torture for me. Even going to the grocery store induced so much panic that I would come close to passing out. I was able to weather that storm and after six months my anxiety level was at a level where I could function again. Then the pain started in my hands. Between my initial appointment and my diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis, the pain spread to other joints and I began to experience other symptoms, such as fever and fatigue.

    Even though my grandmother had Rheumatoid Arthritis also, I totally believe that my constant anxiety and the stress it puts my body through is the reason I am now dealing with a chronic illness. The worst part is now that I am dealing with all these new challenges, my anxiety has only increased.

    Over the years, I have tried several different methods of dealing with the anxiety, including hypnosis and therapy. Medication been the only method that has helped me live a functional life on a consistent basis. I would definitely like to make changes to my diet and exercise, but have not had the energy after working all day.

    Do you have any suggestions of easy ways to deal with stress and RA, etc? I appreciate any help I can get! Thanks so much.


    • PMT
      Aug 19, 2010 @ 15:34:56

      Morgan, I am so sorry that you must endure all that mental torture. I hope that the answers you need will come and ease your torment right away. I will do my best to help.

      First, there are several techniques I personally use and have had wonderful success with controlling my stress. Guided meditation and yoga are by far my two most favorite. Neither require a lot of time, expense, or commitment; only the ability to pull away long enough to allow them to work. I may do either activity for five minutes to an hour depending on how much time, energy, or stress I have to unload.

      For guided meditation, I mainly use Stin Hansen’s My Thought Coach ( because she has free guided meditations on Itunes. There are a lot of different styles, so browse Amazon to see what you like. Itunes is also a good place to browse. For yoga I love My Yoga Online (www.myyogaonline) (see sidebar for link). It is an online and highly professional yoga video workout service. They have a large selection of different styles, intensities, and even guided meditation! I like the restorative sessions best for stress, but there are also actual workouts designed to destress. I can do yoga anytime, anywhere and for the duration I choose.

      Affirmations may sound corny, but they work if you allow them to. The brain can’t distinguish between what is real and what’s not. Therefore truth is what we convince ourselves it is. Messages we tell ourselves repeatedly tend to be those messages we believe in most. Affirmations are repeated positive and empowering messages that can shape our truth, and help to change toxic perspectives.

      Morgan, you don’t have to tell me if you aren’t comfortable, but what is it? What happened that has continued to haunt you throughout your life? I don’t know of anyone with severe depression and anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, or fibro, that doesn’t have at least one whopper of a story that they haven’t come to terms with. Until I came to terms with my own personal “whopper,” nothing I did to try and relax was very helpful. There are no whoppers too big or too small that cannot be overcome. There are people who overcome the emotional scars of combat, tragic death, torture, abortion, etc. everyday. These aren’t obscure figures in an NPR segment, they are everyday people right in your community; they could be your family members, your neighbors, your kids, even you. There is always hope. You just got to believe it. 😉

      I hope that helps a little, let me know if there is more I can offer. Good luck to you Morgan! Pain free hugs to you ❤


  2. Morgan
    Aug 20, 2010 @ 04:27:04

    I don’t mind you asking at all; I have always been very open about my anxiety because it was such a undiscussed topic when I was younger and I never thought that was quite right. I began having panic attacks after a car accident a couple months after I turned sixteen. Mine was the only car involved and was totaled, but luckily I was not physically hurt at all. I was trapped in the car for a few minutes, although it felt like an eternity, due to a damaged door and a large amount of weeds and growth against the door. It was a country road so it took awhile for someone to come along and help me. There was also seeing my parents go through the realization that they could have lost me and I will admit that I will always feel guilty for that.

    I understand how the car accident has something to do with my anxiety besides triggering it. The worst situations for me are ones where I feel trapped, either physically or just because I feel like I should not leave (like dinner at a restaurant). But I also think that the anxiety was always hiding somewhere in me.

    After years and years of talking about it with therapists, it seems like the anxiety has become triggered a lot by my body and not always by my mind, if that is understandable. My body is constantly in fight or flight mode and I just can’t seem to shut it off. My body reacts to a situation, then my mind relates in to anxiety, and off we go. I actually read an interesting book on adrenal fatigue which reminded me of myself.

    Anyway, I love the thought of changing my diet, meditating, and all those great things, but it is so overwhelming.

    Thank you so much for all your suggestions. I really, really appreciate them.


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