Driven to distraction


What is the value of distraction in living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? Can it help cope with pain? With fatigue?

One of the best examples of using distraction to live better with RA comes straight out of art history. One of the greatest Impressionist painters of his time, Pierre-August Renoir (1841-1919), had rheumatoid arthritis during the last 20 or so years of his life. Incredibly, even when his hands became so disabled and painful he had to have his brushes tied to them, and had to be carried on a homemade litter to his favourite outdoor painting spots, he never stopped creating the art that gave him so much joy.

You know how overwhelming the painfatigue, and malaise of RA can be. It can keep you from working or going out with family or friends. How was Renoir able to keep on? In his times, there were no medications to reduce inflammation, or to slow or stop the progression of the disease. Pain medications were limited to aspirin, which had limited effectiveness as an analgesic, and laudanum, a powerful–and popular–over-the-counter, opium-based drug. 

Yet even with painful and disabling RA, Renoir continued painting almost to the day he died. Once, explaining his feeling that that art should be pretty, Renoir said, “Yes, pretty! Life brings enough unpleasantness; why not approach it from the light side once in awhile?”

This quote indicates that Renoir was an optimist or a glass-half-full type of person. He searched for the beauty in the world around him and lost himself in his art.

We all can’t be talented painters, but by focusing on something other than your discomfort or pain–distracting yourself–you can get on with my life more easily. You need to find different things to distract yourself such as reading a good book, watching a movie, or having lively conversations with family and friends or even drawing/painting.

Distraction works as a terrific way to cope and live well with RA. Take it from Renoir, the master.