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My New Coping Strategy: Earn My Pain

I have developed a new coping strategy over the past few months.

I am going to earn my pain.

At first glance, it may not sound like the most sensible way to deal with AxSpA but hear me out.

The gist of my strategy is AxSpA is going to cause me to be in pain one way or another, so I’m going to push the boundaries of my fitness to better be able to cope with the frustrations of living with AxSpA.

I’ve heard other people use the idiom “move it or lose it,” but I’m not at a point where I’m at risk of losing function or fusion so I adapted it to suit my circumstances.

Rest sometimes is just as frustrating

When I spend my day resting, the pain and other symptoms can become just as frustrating as if I cause a minor flare from over-exertion. Although rest is important, too much of it is unproductive, lazy, and will not be beneficial to me over the long term.

For me, the more I push my physical limits, the easier it has become to manage the flare-ups and difficult moments due to AxSpA. Increased strength, stamina, and flexibility allows me to better respond and get through the toughest days.

The other thing is when doing nothing, I might experience similar pain. Being able to trace and understand the source makes it a lot easier to cope mentally. It creates a sense of control when so often AxSpA-related pain can seem so random and arbitrary.

Pushing it helps me

I had an opportunity to visit a physiotherapist at an arthritis-focused clinic, which was incredibly beneficial. The advice I was given was to push and test my abilities because the long-term impacts will be beneficial.

Although I can potentially trigger a flare through certain exercise, it’s not like a pulled muscle or tissue injury where exercise can worsen the condition. Also, without testing my limits I will not know what works for me and what results in augmented pain.

The best example for me is which type of surface I exercise on. Without testing my limits, I would not have discovered concrete hurts. Those days really sucked. I triggered some bad flares and had to endure some painful days to learn it, but it also allowed me to learn and grow.

For other types of activity, tolerating pain at first is a frustrating hurdle but it leads to better days around the corner.

My gradual progress to fitness

For example, I went skiing for a few days this winter – an activity I’ve enjoyed most of my life. The first day was atrocious. I barely made it down three runs before quitting and heading home. What a waste of a day. It gradually got better, but I had to allow myself to have patience and slowly improve.

Slowly but surely, I felt my abilities return and by the fifth day, it felt like normal again and skied nearly pain-free.

The process has been slow, but gradually my fitness has improved and so too has my recovery and pain levels post-exercise.

It also has a profoundly positive impact on my mental health.

The pain I experience is so random and unpredictable, so this strategy gives me a sense of control.

The endorphins released from exercise also really help to manage a flare. My mental health has been a struggle since my diagnosis and movement has developed into a key to help manage that aspect of my daily life.

It’s not a flawless plan. On the days where over-exertion wipes me out for the remainder of the day, it is still frustrating and draining.

With that said, I would rather earn my pain. It will only make me better in the long run.

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