Work it, baby

Job well done...with a bit of research and experience, Arthur and I have found our perfect occupation, writing.

Job well done…with a bit of research and experience, Arthur and I have found our perfect occupation, writing.

Kicking back on Labour Day made me think about how having rheumatoid arthritis (RA) had affected my working life.

To clarify: my paid, formal, get-out-of-my-pyjamas-before-leaving-home type of work, not my daily schedule of household chores.

If you’re interested in handy tips for working around the home, read a previous post.

A job is one of the best distractions from the ever-present Arthur so it’s important to find the right one.

Your job needs to be something you can do and enjoy doing, and should come with understanding employers.

After a year as a checkout chick last century, I discovered I wasn’t physically cut out for continuous standing interspersed only by packing and lifting groceries.

Nor was my mind agile enough to calculate change and remain perky and helpful while longing for a comfortable chair, a cold drink and a foot massage.

I hadn’t told my employer or managers about my chronic disease because I assumed they wouldn’t hire me and I didn’t want them to think I was incapable of doing the job.

Back then I didn’t have the visual cues most people associate with RA: swollen and misshapen, a.k.a. dodgy, hands and feet so I figured I could get away with simply looking young, fit and healthy.

And, anyway, I considered myself able bodied – and still do – even though arthritis is a recognised disability.

Under the Disability Discrimination Act, I could have asked for “reasonable adjustments” so that I could perform my job properly, for example, a stool to sit on at the checkout when I was tired or more regular rest breaks.

For that matter, anti-discrimination laws protect workers with a disability from being treated unfairly, including during recruitment.

If you need advice on your rights and options at work, you can contact organisations such as JobAccess and Centrelink.

I’ve had three career changes in my working life and there may be more to come because retirement is still a speck on the horizon.

Because of Arthur I’ve had to be adaptable and a bit choosy about my occupations.

In doing so I’ve ended up in enjoyable, doable and fulfilling jobs.

These days I tell employers about my RA within my first few months in the role.

This has led to understanding and accommodating workplaces when I’ve needed to take time off for doctor’s appointments, surgery or during a flare up.

And once my colleagues are aware of my limitations, they usually help with tasks I can’t do such as lifting heavy boxes.

If ever you can’t do your job because of illness or disability you may qualify for a superannuation disability benefit.

You may also be able to claim disability benefits if you have insurance policies such as income or mortgage protection.

For more information about accessing your super or insurance policies, visit the Chronic Illness Alliance website.

Maybe it’s not the peroxide

It's hard to see the light on brain-fog days.

It’s hard to see the light on brain-fog days.

Ask anyone who knows me well and they’ll tell you that sometimes I can be a little ‘vague’.

Like the time I confused my nephews’ birthdays and the older boy received a present from me on his brother’s birthday.

Or the time I came home from a two-week holiday to find my front door unlocked.

Luckily, The Absent-minded Aunty lives in a secure unit block.

Sometimes it takes a while for things to sink in or I have trouble finding a word or even stringing a sentence together.

This can be a tad embarrassing because I make my living as an expert communicator.

Back in the day I blamed the late night partying.

Nowadays I blame the long working week, too much late night TV or whatever myriad things I’m worried about.

I’ve even blamed the peroxide that makes me a blond.

That was until I read a post about ‘brain fog’ on Swell Gals, a Facebook group for women with arthritis.

It appeared my vagueness, a.k.a. brain fog, might be connected to my rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

A consultation with Dr Google revealed that while brain fog wasn’t a medical term, many people with RA experienced thinking and memory difficulties.

The possible, but unproven, causes of brain fog include:

• cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and obesity
• depression
• fatigue
• oral corticosteroids
• pain.

Coffee and a couple of Tim Tams may be good, instant fixes for brain fog but I’ve found once I hit the sugar slump, my concentration deteriorates.

Better, longer-term remedies include:

• a full night’s sleep. Inflammation or a bad night’s sleep can make you feel tired and fatigued. Keep your bedroom cool, dark and comfortable, and avoid caffeine and alcohol. Use a pillow that supports your neck and a comfortable mattress that isn’t too soft or too hard. See your doctor if you need help with pain management, sleep medication or better sleeping habits.

• exercise. Research shows that just 20 minutes of moderate exercise helps you to think better but don’t work out too close to bedtime because it can make you too energized to sleep. Talk to your doctor or physiotherapist about the best exercises for you.

• a well-balanced diet. A diet low in saturated fats, high in fibre and including fruit and vegetables is vital to maintaining a healthy weight and overall wellbeing.

• good emotional health. Talk to your doctor if you often feel depressed or anxious.

• well managed cardiovascular disease, if you have it. If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, work with your doctor to lower your numbers.

• organisation. Write down important meetings, events, and to-do list tasks in a day planner or in your smart phone or tablet. Try to save the most brain-intensive tasks for times of the day when you know you’re most alert.

• ask your doctor how you can keep or improve your brain power. Tactics may include programs or activities that help your memory.

Beating the blues

Being a glass is half full type, i.e. having a positive attitude, is an asset for someone with a chronic illness such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Pain, joint swelling, stiffness and disability can lead to emotional problems such as stress and depression, which tend to aggravate Arthur.

I admit that as a cynical optimist there are times I have to work at looking on the bright side of life.

Over the years I’ve found a range of feel-good tactics that help Arthur and I cohabit peacefully, including:

Laughing

‘They’ say laughter is the best medicine so phone that funny friend, watch American Pie again, play frisbee with your dog or borrow the latest Janet Evanovich from the library. Do something that tickles your funnybone.

Adventure seeking

Jump in your car, crank up the stereo and head off down the highway. I find singing and head bangin’ along to the likes of Bohemian Rhapsody increases my sense of adventure.

Looking for adventure keeps the blues at bay.

Looking for adventure keeps the blues at bay.

Exercising

Exercising doesn’t have to be a chore. Replace the weeds in the garden with some flowering plants, walk the dog by the river, bop to your favourite tunes while vacuuming or join your friends for a yoga class.

Helping out

Whether you lend an ear to a friend, donate to a worthy cause or volunteer your time, helping others takes your mind off your troubles and gives you a warm glow inside. It also reminds you there are others worse off than you.

Indulging

The endorphin-inducing power of Tim Tams dunked in a good coffee or beer battered fish and chips with a sav blanc shouldn’t be underestimated.

Looking bright

Have you ever noticed that on a cloudy or cold day, everyone is clad in black and wearing a frown? Your clothes definitely influence your mood so lift it by wearing something bright and happy. If you must wear black, spice it up with a cheerful item such as a pink belt or sky blue scarf.

Having a hobby

I suck at anything arty and crafty, and reading is more a way of life than a hobby, so I collect recipes. Not that I’m a great chef. I just love pasting recipes into large exercise books, which I take hours to flip through before grocery shopping each week.

Downloading

I’m a big fan of the whinge. I could whinge for Australia if whingeing was an Olympic sport. But there’s a fine line between getting something off your chest and becoming that person people duck into doorways to avoid. Make sure you know someone who will warn you before you cross that line.

But sometimes, no matter what you do, you just can’t get out of your funk.

That’s when you need to talk to your family or friends or head to the websites of support organisations such as Arthritis Queensland or Beyond Blue for resources to help you cope with your RA or depression.

If you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed and unable to cope, you should visit your doctor who can advise on options such as counselling or medication.

Handy tips for daily living

After failing in my third attempt to remove the plastic covering the cheddar bound for the Christmas Eve cheese platter, I conceded defeat and handed the less-than-sharp knife to a hovering Mum.

Knowing me well, Mum had been watching to make sure I wasn’t in danger of losing a finger, and waiting for me to ask for help.

Having had rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for a long time, I’m used to people looking askance at the way I do things manually, such as chopping vegetables or carrying groceries, to compensate for my dodgy hands.

My methods may look a little clumsy or time consuming but usually they work and I don’t have to ask for help – handy if you live alone.

I just need a little patience, perseverance, creativity and the help of simple assistive devices, either bought specifically for the purpose or adapted from household items.

My electric can opener is indispensible for opening tinned food, as is my hand-held jar opener, bought from a hardware store.

The jar opener doubles as a plastic milk container lid opener and childproof pill bottle opener.

Maybe you shouldn’t try this at home – but I find toenail clippers are perfect for keeping my fingernails trim and shapely.

A long-handled wooden spoon is useful for rubbing sunscreen or moisturiser on my back and shoulders.

I can wear dresses with zips if the zipper has an ‘eye’ in which I can clip a large safety pin which is fastened to the end of a long, thin, flexible, macramé rope.

After putting on the dress, I simply reach behind and grab the end of the rope, pulling up the zip.

Buttons on denim jeans or shorts can be hard to do up with sore fingers so enlarging the buttonhole by carefully cutting one of the edges just a millimetre or two with a sharp pair of scissors works a treat.

Looping heavy grocery bags over my forearms, instead of gripping them by hand, has helped prevent my fingers from deviating.

As has lifting saucepans from the stove with both hands firmly on the handle.

If you’d like more information about managing day-to-day tasks with RA, I recommend speaking to an occupational therapist or visiting the Arthritis Queensland website.

If you have any handy tips you’d like to share that have helped make your life with Arthur easier, I’d love to hear from you.