By Lynnette Galbier, as told to Allison Bolt
It all started in 2019, about 6 months after I had my youngest daughter. What I thought was only an old running injury flare-up turned out to be seronegative rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
I have two toddler-age girls at home who don’t fully grasp what it means to be in pain. Plus, I’m a Pilates and barre teacher with a movement-oriented job. I’ve spent the past 2 years discovering how I can balance RA, kids, family, career, and all of life’s daily tasks.
Through figuring out how to manage my symptoms, juggling family, taking time for reflective self-care, and connecting with other women with RA, I’ve started to understand what balance looks like for me.
How I Balance Toddlers and RA
Motherhood is a big part of my balancing act. At the time of my diagnosis, my youngest wasn’t even a year old. Now, both of my girls are toddlers. I’ve found that honest communication with them is the most important thing for me.
I try to communicate with my daughters in a way they can understand and in a way that doesn’t make them feel scared or nervous. I typically tell them that I have something called RA, and sometimes it makes different parts of my body hurt. I lightly throw in things like this to our conversations, because I never want my RA to be something I hide from them.
Sometimes I’m dishing out ice cream for my girls, and my oldest will ask, “Mama, don’t you want some?” My first instinct is, of course, I do. Yes, I want ice cream, but my diet has a significant impact on my RA symptoms. So I explain it to them by saying things like, “Well, no, because sometimes it doesn’t make Mama’s body feel good.”
I’m always trying to find a balance of explaining things at their level and being honest with them, like when I need to rest. If there are times when I’m tired and I need to rest, I say something like, “No, I don’t want to play that game right now, because I just need to take a moment to chill.”
I do think I have a little bit of an advantage because my girls are older. When I first started all of this, my youngest was under 1, and she was still waking up throughout the night. Overall, having a baby is very demanding. It was much more challenging to manage my sleep and rest. I knew I needed those things for healing purposes, but I also knew I couldn’t get them.
Now that they’re getting older, that part of my healing journey is more prominent. My girls are great. They’re good at listening to me when I share these honest moments with them and helping me to take the time I need. But no matter what, with two small toddlers at home, taking a moment to chill can’t exactly be taking a nap in the middle of the day.
I’ve found that this rest doesn’t always have to be sleep. I’ve learned that it’s OK to put on a movie for them and rest with them on the couch. Some days, that’s what I need, and taking that time to rest will help me the rest of the day.
What My Career Looks Like Now
I've been doing Pilates since I was 12 years old, when my mom bought Pilates videos from an infomercial. Now, I’m a Pilates and barre teacher, and I teach multiple classes in person and virtually every week.
For me, balancing work and my RA is all about throwing away the schedule. I used to be a person who scheduled my days and strictly followed that schedule, but I don’t do that anymore. Instead, I only schedule the specific commitments of my classes each week. I balance that schedule with times that I intentionally don’t schedule anything.
I typically have unscheduled time in the morning, so if I wake up and don’t feel great that day, I don’t have to be out of the house. I have good days and bad days with my RA, and I tend to know what kind of day it is during this time in the morning. So if I wake up feeling especially exhausted, then I won’t push myself.
How an Online Community Can Help
Sometimes, it can feel like such a race on social media to be the first to post, post every day, build your followers, and all of that. But the like-minded community that you find from it makes it all worth it. It’s a fantastic place to find support.
I live in a small town in New York, and I’ve come across a few people around town who also have RA. But it’s nice to connect with so many other people in the world who are dealing with the same problems that you are. This supportive community is a positive outlet for me as I work on balancing everyday challenges.
My Instagram community is filled with other moms with RA who are all looking to find support and support each other. I love talking to so many other women who understand and want to talk about it. It’s a global support system that I get a lot out of and that I want to give back to.
I’ve always been a Pilates teacher and passionate about working out. But after my diagnosis, I found that I have to listen to my body. I’ve spent the past 2 years figuring out how to use movement to help with my healing.
As a part of my online community, my goal is to give women who might be in the same situation workout options. I know the struggles of finding movement that feels good when you have RA, so I want to share what makes me feel good in the hopes that it might make others in my online support community feel good, too.
My Definition of Balance
For me, balance is all about self-reflection. No matter how chaotic or calm the day was, I take time to think about it at the end of the day. Was it a good or a bad day? Why was it a good or a bad day? With this self-reflection, I can learn and change anything that may be causing bad days or bad moments.
If I have a busy schedule and it’s not working, then I need to take something away. The main thing is knowing that it’s OK to take things off your plate to help your healing process and to find balance.
My biggest advice for finding everyday balance with RA is to have that self-reflection component, listen to that reflection, and change things that need to be changed.
Photo Credits: d3sign / Getty Images, Sarah Minor
Lynnette Galbier, Jamestown, NY.