How to Live Like a Warrior: 3 Lessons | Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior

How to Live Like a Warrior: 3 Lessons

Kelly, you want to tell me how to live like a warrior, really…

  • When I can’t get anything done from fatigue or pain?
  • When medications have failed me?
  • When I feel like the disease is trying to taking over?
  • When my spouse or my friends misunderstand?
  • When I can’t work any more and I can’t make ends meet?

Recent readers have commented on these common battles that many face. I hear you. And yes, I’m going to talk to you about how to live like a warrior – because it’s the ONLY CHOICE I see for us.
how to live like a warrior - 3 lessons

1. How to live like a warrior when you feel too weak to keep fighting

When we hear the word warrior, we think of knights in armor or bronze statues of generals on horseback. Not as much a girl on her sofa with lots of pillows and a red laptop. Sometimes in interviews I’ve been asked, “Why ‘warrior’? Who are you fighting?” But it seemed very obvious to me: we fight to get our lives back, or to keep our lives from being stolen, by an evil disease.

Actually, as I fight another battle in my life, it’s the same. To get through tough times, we have to be warriors – never giving up. Notice I said “through”? Winston Churchill famously said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Whether you believe in heaven or remission, we are going through this; it’s not forever.

Meanwhile we must have a warrior’s intensity of focus that can’t easily be derailed. Warriors don’t give up – at least for very long. Living with a chronic illness wears you out. For some the disease itself is disabling, but its psychological toll can also seem immobilizing. Warriors fight on with our whole hearts. So, how to live like a warrior lesson one is…

LESSON 1: Fierceness of focus

Living like a warrior means your whole heart and soul are fiercely dedicated to a marathon, not a sprint. You always fight on because of your True Grit.

One way to follow the fierceness of a warrior is to focus on a goal. Maybe you have a physical goal to achieve like walking, or traveling, or getting back to a hobby you love. Maybe you want to play with your children or grandchildren. When you feel too weak to do much else, picture that goal. Pray for the strength to take one step toward it today.

2. How to live like a warrior when your body betrays you

While the word victim has bad connotations, it makes sense here. Being diagnosed with a terrible illness is like a betrayal of your own body, especially if you tried your best to live healthy (and you never shot anyone).

But even as a “victim,” you can still live like a warrior. Think of it this way. If a soldier is taken prisoner, he is still a warrior. Whether or not he can escape, he is still required to exercise as much self-discipline as possible to do whatever he can for his country.

If rheumatoid disease – or cancer or something else – takes you hostage, you don’t have to give up on your body. Whether it’s trying frightening treatments or pushing yourself through pain, fighting a chronic disease takes extreme ninja-style discipline.

For me, there’s some kind of victory when a doctor says “This shot in your finger is going to really hurt” and it does, but I refuse to wince. It sounds silly but some days, a little high five to myself is all the triumph I’ve got.

Every day I push myself to do things that seem impossibly hard. I know many of you do. I struggle to do simple tasks and push myself through pain.

Warriors know that self-discipline can show you how strong you are. You don’t need to be a martyr or cause yourself extra suffering. Only you know where the limits are and how hard to push them. So, this is how to live like a warrior lesson two –

LESSON 2: Skilled in self-control

Living like a warrior means following self-discipline that will strengthen your battle position. The disease or situation does not control you.

One way to know that the disease (or other situation) does not control you is to control what you can. Maybe you want to quit smoking or eat better. Or maybe you want to move to a warmer climate. These are major life changes, so maybe you could take on something smaller first. Whatever self-discipline you can work toward on your own terms will increase your fierceness factor.

3. How to live like a warrior while you pursue peace

The Bible says to “seek peace and pursue it.” This is one more irony of learning to live like a warrior. I desire peace as much as food or air. How does someone who tends to walk away from conflict end up living her life on a battlefield? Well as I’ve said before, we didn’t choose to battle RD. It picked on us.

This week Roo and I picked up a few groceries at Wal-Mart and got in the “20 items or less” lane. After he put our items on the counter and I greeted our cashier, another cashier walked up. Irritated, she raised her voice at me, “I went to do a price check. That man was supposed to be next.” I stood quietly, not knowing what else to do. We had walked past a cart with more than 20 items in it, set aside a few feet away. The second cashier repeated herself twice and then yelled that she would take the man at the empty cash register.

Here’s the interesting part: Our cashier said, “You handled that so well!”

“I did?” I asked.

“Yes, I would be swearing, well, at least on the inside.”

I said, “You know, all I want is peace wherever I go.” She stopped and looked me in the eyes, “Me too!”

“Merry New Year” I wished her as we walked out smiling. So, lesson three is –

LESSON 3: Rising above circumstances

Living like a warrior means you do not need to fight in every situation. You can walk above your circumstances.

How to Live Like a Warrior: 3 LessonsOne way to live like a warrior is by choosing our battles. I have no battle with a Wal-Mart cashier or a man in line with 30 items. To me, it’s more crucial that I practice walking in peace and that I don’t let anyone steal from me the opportunity to make someone smile. That allows me to express who I am inside, and that gives me joy. I decide who I am instead of letting circumstances decide for me.

Wrap-up: Be the Warrior you are

I’ve smiled at how many have picked up the term in the past couple years. There are “warriors” for every diagnosis or cause. And there are some good lists about how to become a warrior. But, I don’t believe all warriors have to be alike. Some have more muscle than others. Some have more support. Some have it tougher. My daddy was a Marine. All Marines are not alike. But they must all have the same mettle.

Related reading

Moving with RA is like medieval armor: “Researchers wore replicas of European armor while monitoring oxygen usage. The subjects’ breathing was more frequent and shallow as they used twice as much energy just to move around… When I saw the picture and read the description, all I could think of was it sounds like living with the frozen joints of RA. Walking around in cookie dough is especially tiresome….” Continue reading What RA Is Like: Heavy Armor Hindered Medieval Warriors.

Swing therapy: “For as long as I can remember, I’ve woken up every morning thinking about what I want to do that day. Sometimes, it’s very early and I don’t quite remember about the RA. I awaken thinking of things I want to do. Of course the delusion doesn’t last long thanks to pain.“ …Continue reading I Want My Life Back.

Recommended reading

Kelly O'Neill

Kelly O'Neill (formerly Kelly Young) has worked about 12 years as an advocate helping patients to be better informed and have a greater voice in their healthcare. She is the author of the best-selling book Rheumatoid Arthritis Unmasked: 10 Dangers of Rheumatoid Disease. Kelly received national acknowledgement with the 2011 WebMD Health Hero award. She is the president of the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation. Through her writing and speaking, she builds a more accurate awareness of rheumatoid disease (RD) aka rheumatoid arthritis (RA) geared toward the public and medical community; creates ways to empower patients to advocate for improved diagnosis and treatment; and brings recognition and visibility to the RA patient journey. In addition to RA Warrior, she writes periodically for newsletters, magazines, and websites. There are over 60,000 connections of her highly interactive Facebook page. You can also connect with Kelly on Twitter or YouTube, or LinkedIn. She created the hashtag: #rheum. Kelly is a mother of five, longtime home-schooler, NASA enthusiast, and NFL fan. She has lived over fourteen years with unrelenting RD. See also https:/

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24 thoughts on “How to Live Like a Warrior: 3 Lessons

  • January 6, 2016 at 8:44 am

    Dear Kelly,

    Once again you have written an article that seems like it’s been written for me and published when I need it most! I don’t know how you do this but I most certainly do appreciate it.

    Yesterday I began updating and polishing my skills in the hopes of starting a freelance career (web programming). I have to do this and I have to succeed, there’s really no other choice as I am in desperate need of money, my social security doesn’t come close to making Humira affordable for me; I’ve run the gamut and failed with all the biologics that Medicare does pay for.

    My long term goal is to move to a more hospitable climate. I realize that is going to take a lot of work, time and risk so I’m trying to break it into bite-sized pieces with a reward for each piece. I don’t have a support-network of people so I think physical rewards are the best I can do. The first step is the most difficult so the first reward is significant – bluetooth speakers so I can have music in the bedroom where I work from bed with my laptop!

    Thank you Kelly, this article is a great help to me and I’ll be re-reading it when I get discouraged!

    • January 6, 2016 at 12:51 pm

      thank you Martha. I pray you can move closer to your goal this year!

  • January 6, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    Once again, THANK YOU KELLY! You always seem to hit the nail square on the head, especially when I need some assurance that I/We can get through this. May God Bless you and keep you and Roo safe and well loved.

    • January 6, 2016 at 12:50 pm

      thank you Darlene. I think it’s because we are walking / struggling down the same road in many ways. I had to think about this post about 3 weeks and finally forced myself to write it out.

  • January 6, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    Wow, Kelly, what a great post. We just finished up ladies Bible study at my house and I sat down to read email when I saw this post. My word for 2016 is “Shalom”. I will seek it and persure it! God bless you!

  • January 6, 2016 at 3:35 pm

    You’re right Kelly. I’ve been a warrior all my life. A misunderstood teen, a US Marine RECON. Always I’ve had a moral compas to guide me. A warrior picks his battles when he can, fights to win and accomplishes his missions. When a fight is brought to you you knuckle down and resist.

    RA is the most vicious adversary I’ve ever faced and it’s changed me a lot. I spend more energy avoiding conflicts and stressful stuations now than say ten years ago. But one shouldn’t equate this with a lack of conviction or fortitude. Yes, you need to let the flair so pass before you can move on. And for an Apha Male it’s quite difficult to admit that there’s a disease that can bring you down so effectively.

    My perspective has been modified by RA. I’m more thankful for small victories than I was in the past. Like having a completely symptom free week in August. Heaven, I fished, I worked on my woodworking. Slept through the nights! Awesome man. To most this may not sound like all that much to celibate. But as it turns out it was the high point of 2015 and I thank The Lord I was given the break.

    To all my RAW friends out there I hope 2016 will be the year that RA/RD are no longer a mystery and a cure is found. Until then I plan to fight the battles I can win, resist the ones I can’t to the dest of my abilities, and to rejoice in the small victories.

    God Bless,

    • January 6, 2016 at 3:57 pm

      thank you for taking time to type that Roger. I know it will encourage many.

  • January 6, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    I love what Roger said about how RA has made him focus on celebrating small victories. I have the same outlook, in fact I started a blog in 2011 called Mom’s Small Victories for that very reason, to celebrate my small victories in life with RA. It’s been an uphill battle but I’m finally at a place where I’ve accepted my new normal and am thriving with it (thanks in large part to finding the right mix of meds). RA is one of the hardest battles I’ve fought but I’m just warrior enough to pull through. Great post, thanks for inspiring so many of us to take charge of our health, both physical and mental.

  • January 6, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    Thank you, Kelly! I have sero negative inflammatory polyarthritis (???) And hubby has RD. Your blog is a great source of info and encouragement. Bless you!

  • January 8, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    First, I think I’ve only posted one other time here. But I do read through often. Thank you, Kelly, for keeping it going in spite of everything you’re going through – you’re amazing and I truly don’t know how you do it.

    I came here for some support today. I got released from the hospital 2 days ago after being admitted through the ER for a pulmonary embolism. I initially had some upper abdominal pain the day after I took my enbrel. It had happened back in November and went away after about 2 days, so I was hoping that would be the case again. Nope. Pain steadily worsened over 3 days and by Jan 4, it hurt when I took a deep breath.

    I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice it to say, I am overwhelmed and freaked out. Any of those days, I could’ve not woken up. Also, and many of you may not under stand, but the drug I have to take now, I had to immediately wean my youngest, which has been heart-breaking for both of us. I am, however, very greatful to be alive. Unfortunately, I feel like I got run over by a truck. This is unlike any fatigue from the RD I’ve ever, ever experienced. So, I’m wondering if any of you out there have experienced this, and if so, how in the world do you cope with this sick, sick feeling? It’s like the RD fatigue didn’t double, it got exponentially HUGE. And I am drowning. And yes, I do have an appt with a therapist in a couple weeks, but I just thought you-all might have some insight. Thank you so much if you made it that far.


    • January 8, 2016 at 6:35 pm

      I hope you can get an answer soon Jen. I can only give ideas from what I know about – just 2 cents worth. I’ll type them in case even if they don’t apply to you, maybe another reader.
      One, you could check into whether it’s a side effect of a new med or a drug interaction.
      2, for me the only thing that intense is fatigue from low thyroid (puts RD fatigue to shame). I’ve had thyroid dz most of my life.
      And 3, you didn’t change a steroid dose suddenly did you? Because that can cause adrenal problems that are like what you describe.

      btw I had to wean Roo when I was finally diagnosed. They said no more nursing no more babies. It was a hard time. I’m sorry.

  • January 9, 2016 at 11:53 am

    Thank you Kelly. I am hypothyroid as well, so I’ll make sure to ask at my follow up appt if they could please check that. A simple solution would be heavenly. My pred dose hasn’t changed dramatically; I went up to 10mg to help “get thru” the week of Christmas and am back at 7. Again, thanks for responding. And yes, the sudden loss of those nursing hormones is not helping things.

  • January 9, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    I love this article. I was diagnosed with RA, Fibromyalga and Raynauds 3 years ago and have struggled everyday. The one thing that I have found that helps me is to write in a “grateful” journal everyday. It is so easy to give into the pain and get depressed. It just a little reminder everyday of the things I have to be grateful for.
    On days that I feel really bad I tell myself its time to “embrace the suck” and make my self get up and get moving. What ever you can do that helps you “fight like a warrior” than that is what you need to do. They key is figuring out what that is.
    No matter how silly it sounds find that one thing that will help you… I love to turn on the music and hula hoop it is easy on my joints and it makes me smile.

  • January 9, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    Dear Roger – My husband is an honorably discharged Marine. I read your reply to him. He says you are being a Marine – you are Improvising, Adapting and Overcoming on a daily (and sometime minute-to-minute) basis! He is biased, of course, but he says “he is almost as brave as you are, Honey.” Knowing Himself, you have just been the recipient of his highest regard.
    You have been added to our prayer lists.
    God Bless!
    Elizabeth Riggs

  • January 13, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    We’ve all been ill, but I will hope to get back to you to “chat” as soon as energy etc improve…..I have a question, though….I have a photo that I have been wanting to send to you, but I need an address to use….haven ‘t had a chance to get updates on what’s happening in your situation…..sure hope all is better…..our thoughts are still with you! E-mail me an address I can use, and I will either e-mail the photo or snail mail. Hugs! Vi

  • January 14, 2016 at 8:01 pm

    Hang in there everybody. Don’t let it beat you. I have had ra 14 years and worked a full time job the whole time except when I had wrist fusion and a blood infection from lowered immunity from biologics. I reached remission but have degenerated spine and wrists. I had a wife and children counting on me and could not quit. I am still angry about the anthrax shot that caused or aggravated my RA. I am retired from the military and a eighty percent disabled vet so I actually could afford to lay around the shack but I am encouraging you and I to keep going and do not let this disease stop you from living your life. Be hard headed and get pissed off and keep going! Use your willpower to overcome and pray to GOD to help you do the things you have to do.

  • January 23, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    Dear Kelly,
    Thank you for providing us with a venue that is so informative along with being personal and current. So many blogs let the bloggers take over and it ends up being mostly negative.
    I’ve been recently confirmed with RA and a probable overlap of Lupus. Of course we all have had this condition for many months and for some, years. Diagnosis is, ironically, a relief. I am fortunate to have an appointment with Dr. Daniel Wallace in Los Angeles next week for a 2nd opinion and/or transfer or treatment. My mother died with RA, my sister died of MDS, (myelo dysplasia syndrome) and my daughter had ITP as a child. She is now in forced remission via a splenectomy at age 12 She is a healthy 28 year old.
    My issue today is that over the years I have helped so many friends, family and neighbors with support for their health issues and otherwise with meals and errands and well wishes. Now it’s my turn and I feel pretty isolated as my disease is more associated with the elderly and does not show itself to the naked eye. There are no meals on my front porch, no cards in my mailbox. Is this common for this condition or is the methotrexate (20mg self injected weekly) and Rayos (5mg at bedtime but weaning off, currently at 2mg nightly) making me ridiculously sensitive? It’s such a fine line between talking about it all the time and becoming the patient socially, or not saying anything at all and feeling somewhat neglected. I actually hate both scenarios. I welcome anyone who has been through this and how they dealt with it.

  • January 28, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    Thank You for such a uplifting article! It was something I neede to read at this time. It helps me to remind myself not to let my RA control me !! I have been having a lot of flare ups some which are almost debilitating. I have always been strong but lately I’ve been not . As I read the words I thought why am I letting myself be weak ? I thank you for reminding me that I am a Warrior against this disease !!!! Bless you

  • Pingback: Rheumatoid Awareness Day: What Causes RA / RD?, Links, and Stories of Recovery - Tumbling the Stone

  • July 26, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    Thank you so much, Kelly! Your support means the world to me. I love your strength and your hard work in bringing us more awareness and understanding of this relentless disease. I feel like I’ve lost my life and am so sad and helpless. Your words bring me a sense of community and that there are people who understand our inexplicable fight, a fight that has taken every ounce of my energy. I have been left alone, as many others have, as their family and friends go along with their lives. I’ve been disabled now for 6 years and I feel that days just slip away without me. I have hope and faith in God that He will touch all of us and bring us back to life.


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