Arthritis essentially expresses loss of self-power in an individual. The death of a spouse or divorce is a major trigger. But it’s not grief that makes the joints flare up. Rather, grief is considered a healing emotion. It does not harm, it helps process the loss. The culprit behind the pain is fear. It’s compounded by the I-cannot-burden-others-with-my-sadness belief. Yet, the personal ‘story’ has to be told repeatedly, say experts, to bring clarity to the confusion in our mind and to ultimately accept the loss with some measure of equanimity. At the same time, it’s imperative not to feel worthless as grieving is covertly considered an ‘unproductive’ time by society.
Fear, confusion, worthlessness, all culminating in powerlessness, literally disjoint as the sense of connection is broken. Inflammation erupts. This is arthr-itis — meaning joint-inflammation. To empower our self and prevent or heal arthritis, we need to take certain steps on a parallel course to grieving:
Keep constantly in touch with loving siblings, family members, and close friends. People who understand and love are wonderful catalysts in ensuring that after the tears in the eyes emerges a rainbow in the heart.
Eating nutritious, warm meals stabilises and steadies a faltering spirit. A hot bath and clean, comfortable clothes bring light into the greyness. As I learnt from a sprightly 90-year-old lady, “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.”
Sip cool water through the day. For some reason, dread and dehydration seem to go together. A dry body is also a stiff body. It’s wise to keep the body hydrated and normal, otherwise it unnecessarily adds to the wooden feeling.
Stretching exercises every day are a must. When emotions are in a vulnerable state, it’s important to keep the body strong, able and grounded. This is the time the joints can begin to weaken and stiffen — reflecting the sorrowful disconnect. Stretches connect mind to body and help maintain a sense of wholeness. Do exercises that use finger joints (squeezing a ‘squeegee’), wrists (rotations), elbows (upward stretches), knees (moving kneecaps to and fro while sitting on the mat with legs stretched out), ankles (rotations.) Further, regular stationary cycling for half-an-hour keeps the synovial fluid circulating vigorously in the joints. This natural lubrication is exactly what the stressed-out joints need. With stretches and cycling in your corner, you’d definitely circumvent the arthritis route.
It’s important to maintain normal sleeping hours. Rest amidst a state of restlessness is key to re-empowerment and good health. To counteract turbulent thoughts, keep repeating ‘calmmmm’. Allow your eyes to close gently. Breathe slowly and consciously relax your muscles. Another way to drift into restfulness is to sleep to the sound of family and friends talking. The continuous murmur adds the solace of companionship. Massaging your scalp helps too. Under the rhythmic movements, the nerves in the head begin to relax. In relaxation, personal power increases.
The kindest thing we can do for ourselves in a time of sorrow is to get back to a routine and re-set our priorities. A lady in her senior years was recently telling some visitors sadly, “I miss my husband very much. I always ask him, ‘Why haven’t you come for me?’” The visitors looked sympathetic. One asked her, “How long has it been since he passed away?” She replied, “Twenty-two years.” Her joints aren’t just stiff, they are extremely painful. Twenty-two years are a long time to carry around such a heavy emotional burden. We need to summon up the will and courage to let go, the faith that we can heal our emotional wounds and come out of the crisis and, somewhere deep within, we need to find that spark of can-do-ness to rejoin life fully. Yes, re-join that transmutes into re-joint. Experts call it ‘honing adaptation skills’.
The secret is not to get stuck in our old ways of thinking. We need to take stock, acknowledge that the time has come for a change, willingly give up some old habits that serve no purpose, cognize that behind every loss is a new gain, and begin to look forward to creating new patterns so that we can move into them and on with grace and dignity.
Acceptance and adaptability bring on appreciation. To a person who once walked swiftly but now walks slowly, every leaf, flower, pebble can be a thing of wonder. It’s like making new friends in unlikely places. Such people rise above their afflictions. Some others remain blessedly free of illness despite losing a loved one because their adaptation skills are well developed and they embrace their new single status unflinchingly. It becomes possible to take that vacation, re-bond with old friends, make new ones, and see their own specialness. Once the loss is accepted, our adaptability helps us re-discover the power to express ourself authentically and fully. Remember, when you find your voice, you find your way.
The writer is co-author of the book ‘Fitness for Life’.