Comparison and Ankylosing Spondylitis

We’ve probably all heard the phrase "comparison is the thief of joy." People usually say this to mean that you should stop comparing yourself to other people. The idea is that if you compare yourself to others, you won’t be happy with your own achievements and circumstances. Constant comparison can leave you discontented with your own life. I’ve found this idea useful in the context of living with AS. Except instead of not comparing myself to other people, it’s about not comparing myself to the past version of me that didn’t have AS.

How comparison was unhelpful for me

I used to work full time in a physically active and busy job, on my feet all day. Whenever I was studying, I maintained working a fair number of hours in an active job as well. Before biologics, when I had a very high level of AS symptoms, I hugely struggled to work. This was mostly because I woke up several times every night in excruciating pain. Since being on biologics and developing fibromyalgia, I have maintained part time work.

My job is important to me. Financially, of course, but the sense of purpose and focus it gives me also helps me with mental well-being. I’m happy that my AS treatment enables me to maintain work. At the same time I recognize that AS and its impact varies hugely and this is not the case for everyone. Despite feeling grateful for my accessible part-time job, I have chosen to try going full time a few times in different roles and jobs. Each time, it pushes my body beyond its limitations. I can only manage for a short time and then I crash. There are cascading effects on other areas of my life and I quickly become overwhelmed and have a flare up of symptoms.

Despite knowing this, I went beyond my body's limits several times before accepting it. I kept comparing myself now to myself before AS. I was thinking that because I used to be able to do something, I had to get back to that. The reality is that I can’t do what I used to be able to do.

That can be hard to accept, but going through life constantly comparing myself to an old version of me was making me feel like I was failing. This happened in lots of things. If I went swimming, I’d think that I must get back to swimming the number of lengths at the pace I used to and leave the pool feeling frustrated. Accepting where my health is at and my limitations, and building my life within those, has helped me feel content.

What about when you have to compare yourself to before AS?

There are times when it’s helpful to compare your life now to how it was before AS. For example, when preparing for an appointment or assessment. Often, we can normalize a lot of our symptoms and pain levels, because we live with them every day and adapt. Comparison can be useful to identify which symptoms are impacting you most and how, the strategies you’re using to cope, and how well those are working.

For example, if your AS affects your mobility and there are times when you’re in too much pain to leave the house, you might view the times when you’re able to go out as a good day. If you had an appointment that day and they asked how your mobility is, you might say it’s ok, because you’re feeling positive that you left the house. Whereas, if you compared your mobility to how it was before AS, this would give a clearer picture of how things are going. You might use aids, need regular rests, have stiffness or pain, not be able to walk as far as you used to and take extra painkillers or get fatigued afterwards.

Actively using comparison in this way can be emotionally draining and upsetting, because you do really think about how AS has changed your life. I find it helpful to do something I enjoy to shift my mind away from it after using comparison to help articulate my AS.

How do you deal with comparing your life now to before AS, do you ever find it helpful?

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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