By Julie Eller, co-host of the Live Yes! With Arthritis Podcast
In the latest episode of the Live Yes! With Arthritis podcast, Rebecca and I had the pleasure of chatting with Natalie Dattilo, PhD, a clinical health psychologist and the Director of Psychology Services at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. We got to ask Dr. Dattilo about the relationship between body image, self-esteem and arthritis — and ways that we can shift our perspectives of our arthritic bodies.
In my teenage years, I remember walking along the boardwalk at the Jersey Shore, where I spent many summer days soaking up the sun and ocean air. A smoothie place with chalkboard art out front to welcome folks into their store showcased a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that has always stuck out in my mind: “The first wealth is health.”
As a young person living with a chronic illness, I think a lot about this quote. How can I gain true “health wealth” if I don’t occupy a perfectly healthy body? How can I build a relationship between my mind and body that is rich with health, despite the chronic pain of my condition?
After two decades of life with arthritis, I still battle the perception that my arthritis makes me less healthy, even when it is well managed. I’ve always wanted to reclaim the idea of what it means to be healthy. So many of us who live with arthritis engage in healthy behaviors, eat well and exercise to our best ability, and yet, because of our diagnosis, we fall into a category of chronic illness that does not always feel like it fully represents our health.
In this recurring internal monologue, I find myself arguing that people living with chronic illnesses can still be healthy, can still have ideal bodies, can still accomplish that wealth that Emerson talked about so long, as we reframe our perception of the ideal healthy body. It all comes back to our understanding of our own bodies and how we perceive them; in other words, it comes down to our body image and our self-esteem.
I particularly enjoyed recording this latest podcast episode, as we explored with Dr. Dattilo how managing chronic arthritis affects our perceptions of our bodies and the impact that can have in our lives. We also talked about ways we can reclaim a more positive body-image perception and a more confident sense of self-esteem.
I know that our conversation helped me break free of my internal monologue a bit, and really remember that even with arthritis, we can achieve the kind of wealth that Ralph Waldo Emerson celebrated: health. Tune in to the episode today!