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.”