If you've ever suffered from a chronic medical condition - from back pain to insomnia to Multiple Sclerosis - you've likely tapped into the power of a support system to help manage your disease. That might mean joining an online support group, or phoning a friend of a friend dealing with the same issue. It's comforting to hear from others who understand your struggle and can serve as a wellspring of new ideas for care and coping. And you don't even need to be an active participant in the discussion: A 2008 study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that "lurkers" - individuals who read but do not post responses to online support group forums - reap the same empowerment benefits as active commentators.
For sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis, a painful, often debilitating condition affecting 1.3 million adults, there's now a new tool: HealthiNation.com's True Champions, a series of online videos featuring individuals living with or caring for people with various chronic conditions. Research has suggested that social support, such as that found in online communities, is beneficial for RA sufferers when it comes to psychologically adjusting to the chronic and unpredictable episodes of pain. The first of the series highlights Melinda Winner, an accomplished cookbook author who juggles five forms of arthritis, including RA without letting it rule her life...or keep her out of the kitchen.
When she was first diagnosed, Winner found herself overwhelmed by pain and undereducated with regards to RA. As a new mom, she was in such constant discomfort that even walking or rolling over in bed seemed impossible. She grew depressed, and her clouded mental outlook kept her even more tightly tethered to the couch. ("My idea of an outing was from the couch to the kitchen to the bathroom to the couch," she says in the first video.) Combined with a steady diet of fast food - her passion for cooking had disappeared - she quickly gained 100 pounds, reaching a top weight of 231 lbs.
One day, Winner's young son was begging her to join him on the floor to play cars. She recalls thinking, "If I get down there, there's no way I'm getting back up." The thought was too much to bear and she broke down crying. But through the tears came hope: Winner realized it was now or never, and began her path back to health by simply walking to her mailbox. Witnessing her son's joyful response at being outside with his mother ignited her passion. Soon, she was walking beyond the mailbox and lost all 100 extra pounds.
Today, Winner incorporates body weight moves into her daily routine, such as the squats she eeks out while doing household chores. She rides horses. During an RA flare, she'll stretch in bed. "There's nothing I don't do. I don't even care what the pain is the next day. Because you only have one life. So what, your leg hurts. Guess what? It's going to hurt if you lay there; it's going to hurt if you move. Get up and move!"
One tasty lifestyle improvement that's come with getting fit: Winner is back in the kitchen. "I refuse to let a disease take that. So I bake every chance I get." The RA advocate's kitchen is souped up with a slew of Rube Goldberg-type contraptions. For example, a loop of fabric hangs around the refrigerator door handle. On days when her hands hurt too much to grasp the door, she hooks her arm through the loop and pulls it open.
Some other handy tips for cooking with RA:
-Outfit your kitchen with an island on wheels that can be rotated and moved for your convenience.
-Hang pot racks low to you don't need to stretch overhead to grab them.
-Bring a little cart with you to the pantry and load it up so you only need to make one trip.
-Be inventive: If you can't grip the top of the cooking spray to remove the cap, use your forearm to push it off. So what if the cap goes flying? Nobody's judging you!
Future HealthiNation videos will focus on other conditions, so stay tuned. In the meantime, visit HealthiNation's True Champions to learn more from Winner and become inspired by her dedication to turning a painful diagnosis into a positive life experience.