Straight from a young fashion designer who was utterly shocked by his RA diagnosis.
With any new diagnosis comes a wave of emotions—and often some big lifestyle changes. Friends and family can often be great support, but hearing from another person who has the condition and knows what you’re experiencing can be invaluable.
Michael Kuluva, a rheumatoid arthritis patient and creative designer of LA-based fashion brand Tumbler & Tipsy, knows what it’s like to accept and eventually embrace a new diagnosis. In fact, his bold and colorful fashion collection that he recently showed at New York Fashion Week was directly inspired by rheumatoid arthritis. An autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis is a condition that causes the immune system to attack the joints, leading to painful swelling. (Learn more about how rheumatoid arthritis affects the body here.)
Here’s what advice Kuluva has for people who have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, based on his own experience living with rheumatoid arthritis.
Don’t Google it. Search results for any condition can often show the worst-case scenarios—the kinds of things that would make anyone with a new diagnosis panic. Instead, Kuluva recommends getting as much information directly from your doctor as possible.
Seek out support and find an RA community. “When I was first diagnosed [with RA], I had a very close circle of people that would know what was going on,” says Kuluva. “I kept it very private and confidential.” Having a personal network can be useful, but Kuluva also recommends finding people who know about RA firsthand. Advocacy organizations, online forums, or in-person support groups can all provide an important sense of understanding and connection that makes your RA diagnosis less intimidating.
Choose your clothes carefully. Little things like tying shoes and buttoning shirts can be painful if you have pain in your fingers and wrists. Choosing slip-on or velcro shoes, pants with zippers instead of small buttons, or shirts that snap up, can remove a lot of stress from your morning routine.
Exercise—even though you may not want to. Feeling pain in your joints may make you want to do the opposite of working out, but studies have consistently found that staying active can reduce arthritis symptoms and improve mobility and range of motion. “For me, [working out] is really a task,” says Kuluva. “It’s such a task that you double-think of even going to the gym some mornings, [but] it is worth it. You have to keep your body moving.” (Learn more about why rheumatologists recommend regular exercise to treat arthritis.)
Assess your lifestyle. Getting enough sleep, exercising, staying hydrated, avoiding caffeine, and eating a healthy diet are some of Kuluva’s main ways to manage his RA. The Arthritis Foundation recommends an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, to take in more antioxidants and help reduce additional pain in the joints. (Here are tips to making any diet more Mediterranean.)
Give yourself time to adjust. It’s normal to feel scared or anxious after a new diagnosis. “It’s going to be a difficult time,” says Kuluva. “Your whole life is going to be changing.” This period of adjustment has a silver lining, however: “You’re going to be learning a lot about yourself, and I think with a great support group and great outlook and positivity, that the disease is not going to take over [your] life.”
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You never really think that something
can just come out of nowhere and
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just hit you and really just
make you come down to basics and
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from there rebuild to another life.
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I think after the diagnosis
I was still scared.
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I had no idea, I didn't know anybody
else in my age group that had it.
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I didn't understand it per se.
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Like I didn't understand why my joints
were still attacking themselves,
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why my body.
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I think if anybody is diagnosed
with something like this,
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they shouldn't Google it first.
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They should definitely
talk with their doctor and
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get as much information from
their doctor as possible.
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I would go to an organization and
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try to get involved with them as much as
possible, with an arthritis organization.
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When I was first diagnosed
with all of it I had a very
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close circle of people that
would know what was going on.
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And I kept it very private and
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There's little things that I've changed in
my life to help further my life as well,
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and try to keep it comfortable.
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Especially as being now the designer for
all the arthritis collections,
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I just hear so much about, like their main
thing is putting on their shoes everyday,
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it's just so hard.
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And I know it, I don't wanna lace up my
shoes, I can barely tie them some days.
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So having those type of shoes or
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Easier pants to put on and stuffs
that might not be button down shirts,
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maybe their shirts that
have snaps on them.
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That can be the biggest challenge of
getting to the gym is getting dressed.
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For me, it's really a task.
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And for others it's a task.
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And it's such a task,
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that you double think of even
going to the gym some mornings.
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It is worth it, it is worth it,
you have to keep your body moving,
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you can't get stiff.
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So I now know just certain
limits in my life.
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I have to go to bed at a certain time.
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I have to go to bed before midnight,
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I get up at seven every day.
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I make sure I try to
get in a good workout.
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I try to drink as much water as possible,
I don't drink caffeine.
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I really look at what I eat.
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Right now it's gonna be very difficult.
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I'm not going to sugarcoat it for you.
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It's gonna be a difficult time.
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Your whole life is gonna be changing.
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But that time, you're gonna be
learning a lot about yourself.
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And I think with a great support group and
with a great outlook and positivity,
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that this disease is not
gonna take over my life.
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There's just so many things you can
do to make your life easier and
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I think that's the main thing in this
is just try to live your normal life.
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Cooney JK, Law RJ, Matschke V, Lemmey AB, Moore JP, Ahmad Y, et al. Benefits of exercise in rheumatoid arthritis. J Aging Res. 2011. (Accessed on PubMed at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3042669/.)
Rheumatoid arthritis self-care. Atlanta, GA: Arthritis Foundation. (Accessed on February 9, 2018 at https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/rheumatoid-arthritis/self-care.php.)
What is rheumatoid arthritis? Atlanta, GA: Arthritis Foundation. (Accessed on February 9, 2018 at https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/rheumatoid-arthritis/what-is-rheumatoid-arthritis.php.)