“I know it works and I want to help,” said Diana Bainbridge, who did the Arthritis Self-Management Program and the training to be a program facilitator.
“A lot of people feel very lonely with the condition but you are not alone. There is help and the program helps. You do it your way. It’s a very empowering tool.”
Like many people with arthritis, she lived with the disease for years before getting a diagnosis. She was always active and when she hurt her ankle back-country skiing 25 years ago, she assumed it would heal quickly. It didn’t, but she continued her regular activities with varying degrees of pain.
When she moved to Vernon 10 years ago, she continued to teach at Beairsto school full-time and ski, run, canoe, bike and play racquet sports.
“About four years ago, I reached a point where I was constantly limping,” she said.
Even with a diagnosis of osteoarthritis at only 52 and knowing that her mother had it and so had her grandfather, she was still hopeful that her ankle could be set right with minor surgery. When she was told that the oateoarthritis was severe and she would require major surgery and lose the flexibility of her ankle, it was a blow.
“I crashed emotionally and had major depression. This might seem extreme but I found out later that it is normal. I was always a very physical person and that was a vital part of my persona. I thought I was going to have to say good-bye to a huge part of myself and I didn’t know if I could live with what was left,” said Bainbridge.
She started to work with the school district rehabilitation counsellor who helped her understand that there is life with a chronic, degenerative disease. She learned the self-management techniques and was able to go back to teaching, a job she loved, for three more years.
“The arthritis spread to other parts of my body. I could never have imagined being in this state at so young an age. The self-management course gave me the tools to help the condition myself, by what I was doing every day and in the end, that is the best solution. I didn’t get better but life got better because I was doing what was best for my body. The school was very supportive in doing things like splitting up my supervising shifts so I wouldn’t be on my feet for too long at one time, and I would have the students come to me instead of going to them. Of course, I did keep active — that’s one of the most important things for arthritis — but in ways that worked for me.”
Some of the techniques in the course include how to make realistic action plans and achieve them, how to manage pain and fatigue, deal with depression and how to make medical decisions.
Bainbridge learned how to modify her favourite sports so that she can still bike, swim, paddle and ski. She has had to give up high impact sports but has taken up yoga, which she enjoys, and has found solace in music, as a member of three local choral groups and in playing the piano. She uses a variety of adaptive devices at home and has learned to be aware of doing things in a way that will protect her joints.
“When you lose your health, you wonder about the future and can be fearful, but I have found that it is better to take each day as it comes. I think it’s important to find what your passion in life is and what there is in that to help you through.”
Bainbridge retired a year ago and when she saw a notice in the paper asking for volunteer instructors for the Arthritis Self-Management Program, she knew it was something she had to do.
“I find it very rewarding to be able to help others as I was helped. I find that two of the most powerful aspects of the course are making action plans for the week — it can be as simple as walking a block most days — and brain-storming in the group about problems so that people learn from each other. I got many good ideas that way,” she said. “I see that the participants come in feeling as I myself did, hopeless and that they have no power. They leave having learned that what they are experiencing is normal and that they can learn how to cope with it. The groups are very positive and pro-active, there is a lot of laughter.
“I’ve lived this. I’ve been through the dark, dark times and I’ve been helped. I see people take away what they need — these are life-long skills — and get on with their lives.”
She refers to a fortune cookie saying she got when she was feeling down. “Make the most of yourself for that is all there is of you,” and another of her favourite quotes, “Experience is not what happens to you: it’s what you do with what happens to you.” (Aldous Huxley)
The six-week Arthritis Self-Management Program starts Sept. 8 and runs consecutive Thursdays until Oct. 13 from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at The People Place (3402-27 Ave., Vernon). It is for people with all types of arthritis as well as for people with fibromyalgia and other auto-immune conditions. For more information and registration call 1-866-414-7766.