"It's just as well that we get to know each other and find a good way to work together."

"It's just as well that we get to know each other and find a good way to work together."

When Magdalena Persson was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), she chose to create space in her everyday life. Using her previous experiences and strengths has helped Magdalena find ways in which she and her RA can find a new and sustainable life in the long term.

Who are you?

My name is Magdalena Persson, I am 49 years old and I live with my husband Jonas. We have three children and are in the phase of life where our children are moving away from home. We live in a house by a lake in Sollentuna which is surrounded by greenery. Jonas and I work in our company as consultants helping companies to develop. In addition, I am chairman of the board of another company and work with another couple of listed companies. 

How was it when you first got your diagnosis?

I had been in pain for a while, starting with pain and stiffness in my back. In the summer we were in France and I had pain in my fingers and wrists in the mornings. August came and the pain did not go away. I was generally tired and in pain everywhere. I did the tests for back pain and joint pain. When I got the results, it said that I should seek medical attention. At the health center, blood samples were taken and I showed them pictures I had taken of my hands when it was at its worst. The next day they called back and I was sent to the rheumatologist. Within a week I was told I had rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Receiving the message was to some extent a shock, but, it was also a huge relief. When I look back at my notes before the rheumatologist visit, I was worried they would not know what it was and my symptoms would be dismissed as insignificant. I felt so clearly that I was sick and needed help. Getting the diagnosis was a confirmation that I was right about that. So, there was a relief there and many other emotions at the same time.

What became important to you?

For me, it was about creating space to take care of myself in my new RA life. Practically speaking, since I work with different companies and so structure my time myself, I chose to give my RA the same treatment as I would give one of my portfolio companies.

I gave my RA one day’s worth of time a week, so, at least 20 percent of my time. I used that time to exercise and rest. In the beginning, I also blocked out Wednesdays because my medication would make me sick the next day.

It was very good for me to structure my days in this way. It was sustainable and I have continued with it. For me, it is super important I do everything I can with my diagnosis. I cannot control everything, but if I have done something I know I feel good about, it is much easier to handle the rest.

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What has helped you?

My experiences and strengths. It helped a lot that I felt pretty quickly that it had been "a little lucky" I got this diagnosis. I can use some of the strengths I have as a person and which I have acquired through my professional life. I can apply them to my RA and make things pretty good. That can mean anything from adding structure to everyday life, discipline to hold on to things, and doing what I know is good even if it doesn’t always feel good at the time. Besides, I'm good at being able to say no!

Shifting focus. If I'm having a bad day, I try to shift my focus. "Soon I will come out of this. It will soon get better", I think. Sometimes it can help to compare with how bad it was before I was diagnosed. Finding a comparison like that lifts me, makes a difference, and helps. When I have a worse period, I can sometimes console myself that the disease will eventually go into remission. 

Take time to think and be present. Of course, I think about how I will feel over time, in maybe ten to fifteen years. That is a question I will return to. I allow those thoughts to come, but I must not get lost in them. It's not a meaningful thought for me. I do not know how I will wake up tomorrow - and really, no one knows! That helps me to be more present here and now. The keys you find when you live with RA are the keys to a good life, regardless of whether you live with RA or not. These are just things that help one to live one's full glorious life.

Imagine personal goals. One last thing would probably be that I found a personal image of a goal for me and my RA. From the beginning, it was my Pilates PT who said: “My goal is for you to be as mobile as you can ever be, for as long as possible. You should be able to sneak in like a flexible cat in a room when you are 80 years old ”. That goal image became so clear to me that it became my own in the end. A long-term and sustainable goal image means that something temporary does not become a problem. If I feel bad for a week, it does not have to make me feel bad in the long term.

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Do you see a difference in yourself today?

I really notice a difference in myself compared to before. I am a much more positive person, I'm happier and feel better. I do not really get hooked on things I the way I used to before, before I was diagnosed. I get over things. I feel much calmer and less stressed.

Part of that comes from the fact that I have come to know my diagnosis. In the beginning, those first six months, when I took my medication, I felt bad the next day. But now that I have reduced the dose and got used to it, I feel much calmer and take it all in my stride.

I think it’s completely pointless to feel that I should fight or suppress this in my own personal war against RA. That would only lead to exhaustion, and I do not think it would work for me. I see it instead as a task I have, a partner I will live with for the rest of my life. So I’m glad we have got to know each other and found a good way to work together.

I try to personify my RA a little, also so as not to make it too much to do with me and my personality. It has to be something independent of me and so we coexist. I do not think of it with any anger or bitterness, I think it’s okay that I got RA to link arms with, and nothing else. We need to work together and together find the best way for how we should feel.