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07/Oct/2021

The people in our lives bring so much colour and richness to our days. Our family and friends, work colleagues, local baristas, intimate partners, food deliverers, healthcare providers, neighbours, fellow gamers and dog walkers – all of the ordinary and intimate relationships we have are important and connect us to our world.

Apart from the warm fuzzies we get from having these people around us, healthy relationships are good for our physical and mental health. They help us feel less stressed, reduce feelings of loneliness, distract us from pain, boost our immune system and make us feel happier and more optimistic. They’re practically a tonic for all that ails!

And that’s why it’s so important that we nurture these relationships.

This is the first of two articles exploring ways we can tend to our close relationships, to ensure they remain strong and supportive. We begin with the relationship with a partner, spouse, or significant friend.

Physical vs emotional intimacy

When we think about intimate or close relationships, we often think of physical acts of intimacy – holding hands, cuddling, kissing, hugging and sex. They’re an essential element in our romantic relationships. But we also need emotional intimacy for deeper connections with those we have, or hope to have a committed relationship with.

Emotional intimacy involves each person opening up to the other, allowing their vulnerabilities to show, and sharing their deepest feelings and thoughts. To do this, each person needs to feel safe and supported to be themselves, ‘warts and all’. This level of intimacy takes time. And it requires open, honest communication and ongoing work.

“Intimacy is the capacity to be rather weird with someone
– and finding that that’s ok with them.” Alain de Botton

Emotional intimacy occurs not only within committed, romantic relationships, it can also happen within platonic relationships, for example, with your bestie, BFF, a sibling, or with someone else you have a close bond.

The following strategies are focused on nurturing romantic relationships, however most can be used for platonic relationships as well 😊.

Strategies for nurturing your relationship

Share your deep, inner thoughts, feelings, beliefs, fears, needs, pain and worries – not just the superficial stuff.
To really develop that deep connection and understanding of each other, share the things that make you ‘you’. We’re all so different and have had different experiences, challenges, traumas, victories and lifestyles. This shapes who we are, and we tend to keep much of this to ourselves.

However, sharing these things with your partner over time creates intimacy as your relationship grows and deepens. This has to be a two-way street. You both need to be open and honest about the things that matter to you, as you feel comfortable and safe to do so.

“Never idealize others. They will never live up to your expectations.
Don’t over-analyze your relationships. Stop playing games.
A growing relationship can only be nurtured by genuineness.” Leo F. Buscaglia

Share how much they mean to you.
We all like to hear how much we mean to someone – especially when it’s out of the blue. Try not to become complacent with your relationship or take your partner for granted. Tell them how much you appreciate them and how much they bring to your life. Show them how much they mean to you – buy the book they’ve been wanting, prepare a picnic full of their favourite things, give them a hug, fold the laundry, place little love notes or tokens in unexpected places. Be creative and be honest 💖

“Love is a two-way street constantly under construction.” Carroll Bryant

Share, learn and explore sexual desires so you both feel satisfied.
This adds to your emotional connection. However, sometimes our condition, pain, anxiety and the madness of life in general can impact our desire to be physically intimate. Check out our blog on sex, intimacy and musculoskeletal conditions for tips to help you get your groove back.

“Sex without love is merely healthy exercise.” Robert A. Heinlein

Share time together outside of your day-to-day routine.
Remember the excitement when you first met? The first thrilling time your hands brushed, when you couldn’t wait to see each other? Try to rekindle some of this excitement so that you get to be together as lovers, partners, friends – not as mum/dad/worker. Make the time to check in with each other, even when it feels like the world is taking over. This can be really challenging – we’re all so busy. So you may need to schedule time for this (not sexy, but often necessary). And make sure you unplug from all technology and put your phone away. It’s worth the effort. Take this time as a loving couple to talk about your day, feelings, needs, hopes and dreams, and just connect.

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream.
A dream you dream together is reality.” John Lennon

Share the difficulties, and where possible, work on solutions together.
If you have problems or difficulties that relate to your condition, job, other people etc – share them. Don’t keep them bottled up. Having someone to discuss your issues with can help bring clarity. Or at least help you feel your emotions are important and validated.

If the problems relate to your relationship or home life, this can be tougher. Especially if you both have strong feelings about the matter. In this case, it’s really important to be respectful to each other, listen, and work together to come up with a solution. And be prepared to compromise, so the solution feels fair to both of you. Remember, we’re all different, and we do and see things differently. This is a good thing (how boring would it be if everyone saw things the same way?), but it can sometimes be really frustrating. So if you become angry, take some time to breathe, reflect on the situation, and come back to it when you both feel calm.

However, sometimes it can be hard to get past an issue, and you may need external help to resolve it. See the section below on managing conflict.

“Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Relationships are complex.
Outcomes are uncertain. People are irrational.” Hugh Mackay

Share the load.
We like to think of ourselves as superhuman at times and try to do it all without asking for help. Even when it may be needed 😣. But this isn’t sustainable. We’ve all ended up in a heap doing this.

Again, it comes down to open, honest communication. Someone who doesn’t have a musculoskeletal condition can’t fully understand what it’s like, how frustrating it can be to be fine one day and thoroughly shagged the next. If there are things you’re struggling with – all the time, or just occasionally – discuss these with your partner. Look for ways to share the load – with your partner, children, housemates, other family members, or even hiring someone to do the chore/task.

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength,
while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” Lao-Tzu

Share fun times.
Make time for having fun, being silly and finding (and celebrating) the joy in life. This can be challenging when you live with pain, the uncertainty of living through a pandemic, work stress and household craziness. But it’s so rewarding. Watch a silly movie, dance in the back garden, share funny memes during your day, go skinny dipping after dark 😍. Laughter and shared fun create another level of intimacy, as well as a twinkle to the eye and a healthy glow to the skin (especially if the water is cold 😉).

“We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird.
And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours,
we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness
– and call it love – true love.” Robert Fulghum

Have outside interests (and share yourself).
In case you’re starting to feel nauseated by all the saccharine togetherness 🤢, it’s also really essential that each person has independent interests. There are often things that make us really happy but are of no interest to our partner – think sports, book clubs, crafts, parents groups, community gardens, study groups, cooking classes, gaming etc. Instead of dragging your partner along, take that time for yourself. It helps you pursue the things that make you feel fulfilled, and you can share your experiences and happiness with your partner. When you both have these opportunities, life is more exciting and rewarding.

“A great relationship is about two things:
First, appreciating the similarities and second, respecting the differences.” Unknown

When it isn’t always smooth sailing: managing conflict

All of the suggestions we’ve provided require commitment, time and ongoing work. But sometimes you can work, and work hard, but arguments and conflict still arise. Especially when you’re living with the stress of unpredictable health issues, COVID-19, family commitments and all the other complicated things adulthood brings with it.

If you’re both committed to working through these issues, but feel like you can’t resolve them on your own, consider talking with someone you trust about it. This may be a close family friend or family member, or it may be a professional.

Getting help
Family Relationship Advice Line is an Australian Government service that helps families affected by relationship or separation issues. It can also refer callers to local services that provide assistance. Call 1800 050 321.

Relationships Australia provides a range of counselling services, delivered face-to-face and online. Find out more about the counselling services available on their website. Or call 1300 364 277.

Ending a relationship
If you’re not committed to resolving relationship issues and want to end it, Relationships Australia has resources to help you through this upsetting and stressful time.

Abuse or violence
It’s never OK to use power, abuse or violence against another person. If you need help, it’s available. For safety and support, call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) for confidential information, counselling and support. They operate 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Read the second instalment of this series: Nurturing relationships: Family and friends

“Maybe you don’t need the whole world to love you.
Maybe you just need one person.” Kermit the Frog

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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07/Oct/2021

This is the second of two articles exploring ways we can tend to our close relationships, to ensure they remain strong and supportive. The first looked at the relationship with a partner, spouse, or significant friend. You can read it here

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another,
‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one” — C.S. Lewis

How often do you see a post on social media from a friend or family member and think, ‘it’s been ages since I’ve seen/called/talked with them…’? Or going about your day, you see something that triggers a memory of a great time with someone important to you, and you can’t remember when you last spoke?

It’s so easy for life to get away from us and lose contact with our family and good friends. Finding time amidst all of our other obligations, the general busyness of life, and let’s not forget COVID 😣, can push staying in touch to the bottom of our ‘to do’ list. But this inattention and neglect can distance us from the significant people in our lives. And it’s during times like these that we need them, and they need us more than ever.

Healthy relationships are good for our physical and mental health. They help us feel less stressed, reduce feelings of loneliness, distract us from pain, boost our immune system and make us feel happier and more resilient. They provide support when our various health issues make us feel exhausted and sad. And they bolster our mood when the long days of COVID make everything seem so grey.

That’s why we need to nurture these relationships with our family and close friends.

Here are some strategies you can use:

Make them a priority.
Value your relationships and work hard to keep them strong. Tend to them as you would any living thing – with regular care and attention. Build time into your day/week/month for them, and make this time sacrosanct. How often you connect depends on the depth of the relationship; however, the important thing is to make it happen. Don’t let them fall by the wayside as if they’re unimportant.

Accept (and embrace) our differences.
We’re all different (and isn’t that amazing!), but that means we can have differences of opinions, beliefs and lifestyles that may cause friction from time to time. Accept that this is the case. These differences can challenge us to consider other viewpoints and opinions. They can lead to exciting discussions and debates. But they can also lead to conflict and anger. If this happens, take some time to breathe, reflect on the situation, and return to it when you both feel calm. This may be challenging at times, but if it’s something you can move past, or if you can agree to disagree, do so. However, if the issue isn’t something you can ignore or live with, or your relationship has changed to the point that it makes you unhappy, it may be time to re-evaluate the relationship.

Trust your peeps.
Trusting someone takes bravery and can make us feel vulnerable. But it also builds intimacy with another person. When this trust is reciprocal, you can share your deepest thoughts and fears without fear of judgement. You can ask for help when you’re in pain or feeling overwhelmed. Apart from how great it feels to know that you have someone in your corner who you can trust with your deepest and darkest, it also feels great to be on the receiving end of that trust.

Show your appreciation.
People are adaptive and become used to things very quickly. So it’s easy to start taking a person for granted when you’re so used to them being there, listening to you, providing support. We get used to these things and don’t notice them as much because they’re always there. So take notice. Tell them how much you appreciate them. Give them your full attention when they’re speaking. Thank them when they do something for you. Send them a note or a small present out of the blue to let them know that you’re thinking of them.

Schedule, schedule, schedule!
We’re always so busy, so it’s a good idea when catching up with someone important that you make a date for the next catch-up before you part ways. That way, you can both put it in your diaries, and you have a firm commitment.

Create alerts.
Again, we’re busy bees 🐝, and things can slip by without us pausing to take note. That’s why I put birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates in my calendar and create alerts for them. It might be an alert to call them on the date or one that gives me time to find a card and gift and post it to them in time.

Establish traditions and routines.
We tend to have friends and family members that we associate with specific things or activities. For example, the friend you work out with, the sister you go to galleries with, the mate you go to the cricket with, the friend who’s always up for a spontaneous adventure. Taking advantage of these traditions means that you can catch up and enjoy shared interests. Win, win!

Share your interests.
We’re all looking for recommendations for books, movies, TV shows, podcasts etc (especially during lockdowns!). Share what you’re reading, watching or listening to, and your opinions. Create a discussion group – that sounds so formal 😉 – but it could occur during happy hour, video chat, social media or a walk around the park.

Call them.
Never underestimate the power of simply picking up the phone and having a chat, even a quick one.

Connect IRL.
Endless lockdowns and border closures have made connecting in real life so much sweeter. So if you can, and it’s safe to do so, catch up with your peeps in person for a walk, picnic, coffee, bike ride…whatever works for you.

Send photos.
With a smartphone, we can easily share our lives with important people. I’m not a selfie person, but I do take pics of things I see – a sunrise, a dog taking its owner for a walk, or a fantastic meal I can’t believe I cooked. The ordinary things that mean a lot to me and the people I share them with. And in return, I get pics from their days. It provides a glimpse into the everyday of lives, especially if we can’t be there in person.

Value the quick connections.
How often do you put off a call or catch up because you don’t think you have time? Not all of our connections need to be long or deep, and meaningful. A quick call to say hello, a silly selfie, a short text, or a quick email can help sustain relationships between the longer catch-ups.

Pay attention to how you feel.
Next time you’re with your close family or friends, pay attention to how you feel when you’re with them. How’s your mood compared to how it is when you haven’t seen them in a while? Even when they drive us crazy, we usually feel happy and more content when we spend time with these people.

Learn to forgive.
People have the power to hurt us. This can make us feel angry, sad and a whole host of other emotions. But we can control how we choose to deal with the hurt and our feelings. We can stew and brood – but this only makes us feel bad. Or we can forgive the person for the pain they caused. This doesn’t mean it’s forgotten or that the offense is suddenly excused or ok. It simply means that you’re taking control of the way you feel and healing the hurt. But it’s not always easy, so for some tips read, Eight keys to forgiveness from The Greater Good Science Center.

Apologise.
On the flip side of forgiveness is knowing when you’ve hurt others and when to apologise. This can be really tough because it’s hard to acknowledge that we’ve hurt someone or done something wrong. But it’s necessary to heal a relationship. It’s also crucial that we respect the other person’s feelings and that they may not be ready to forgive immediately. Be gentle and take time.

Allow for spontaneity.
Sometimes you just need to toss your schedules and chores out the window and be spontaneous!! Call the friend who’s always up for an adventure or the one in need of some good, old-fashioned fun, and throw caution to the wind. Go on a road trip, hit the shops, have a movie marathon. Whatever works for you and brings you together 😊.

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends.
I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” — Jane Austen

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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05/Aug/2021

Humans have evolved to be an incredibly social species. That’s why our connections are so important to us – with family, friends, work colleagues, teammates, walking buddies, fellow book clubbers and staff at the local coffee shop. They all play a role in shaping who we are and how we get on in the world.

So when we can’t see these people in person due to lockdowns, restrictions, quarantine and the general chaos of COVID, it’s really hard on us.

The last 16 months have been so wearing – both physically and emotionally. We’re living with heightened feelings of anxiety and stress – what will the case numbers be today, when will I be able to visit loved ones, how long will we be homeschooling, when will life go back to ‘normal’??

Unfortunately, there aren’t any simple answers for any of these questions – especially the last one.

But there’s a simple thing you can do to combat the loneliness, lethargy, emotional fatigue and general feeling of ‘meh’ that COVID is causing us to feel. And that’s staying in touch with your peeps and extended community.

How to stay connected when you have to stay apart

First, we should never forget that restrictions and social distancing measures are all about physical distance. We need to remain separate from others so that the virus can’t spread. But that doesn’t mean we have to be socially separated or isolated.

Even before the pandemic, we used technology to remain connected. COVID has just put that on the fast track, and we’ve become familiar with video chats, long phone calls, and messaging.

So what else can you do to ensure you remain connected with the people and places important to you?

Check in. And no, there’s no QR code involved in this one 😀! Take time daily to check in with yourself. How are you doing? If you’re feeling anxious or lonely, or overwhelmed, reach out to others for support. If you’re feeling fatigued or in pain, what can you do to deal with this? Taking a few moments to check in with yourself each day helps you deal with any issues before they become significant problems.

Take time to connect with those in your own home – your partner, kids, parents, siblings, housemates, pets, plants🌷😊. How’s everyone doing? Share your experiences and feelings about the day. And if you want to go beyond the small talk, try these ‘36 questions for increasing closeness’ from The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley (USA).

Phone a friend. Make a regular time to call/video chat with those important to you. And make that day/time sacred – nothing (other than an emergency) should get in the way of this contact.

Get everyone involved. Call your nearest and dearest for a group chat and…watch movies, listen to music, make dinner, enjoy happy hour, fold the washing, discuss a book, play online games. You can still do things together even if you can’t be together.

Get out and walk. Exercise is essential for our physical and mental health, so get out and breathe in the fresh air. Take the family for a stroll, or meet up with a friend in the park. If you can’t walk with your usual crew, link your fitness apps and compare how many steps you’ve done for a little friendly competition 😉. Go on a scavenger hunt. Or send pics to your network of the things you see on your walk. Walking isn’t just a good form of exercise – it can become an adventure, or a mindfulness exercise, or a chance to see other people in the flesh (and safely distanced).

Connect with your neighbours. Have a chat over the fence as you do your gardening or peg out the laundry. Or sit in your separate yards/driveways/balconies and just natter the afternoon away. Take note of any neighbours who live on their own and reach out to them. See if they need any assistance, groceries, someone to take the bins out, or most important of all, simple human interaction. It’s what we all need to get through this.

Immerse yourself. There are lots of online support/hobby/social/exercise groups that you can access from the comfort and safety of your own home. You can learn new things and meet new people without stepping out your door. And the beauty of online groups is they don’t even have to be in the same city, country or continent! Befriend Inc has created a handy guide to help you find and attend social groups online.

Send a care package. To someone you care about, or someone you know is having a difficult time. Send books, jigsaws, flowers, yummy food, a handwritten note. Anything that lets them know you’re thinking of them. It’ll be a lovely surprise and a boost for them, and for yourself. “As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way” – Mary Anne Radmacher.

Give thanks. Even though we’re tired, frustrated, anxious and sick of the stupid virus, there are still things to be thankful for. Taking time to reflect on these things helps us feel more positive and more fulfilled. Find out how you can become more grateful in your everyday life.

Volunteer your time and skills – from home. Volunteer work can be rewarding for yourself and your community. And there’s a lot of volunteer work that can be done online or remotely. So think about the types of things you’re passionate about, your skills, the amount of time you can give, and look around your local community to find the best match. Or visit GoVolunteer and search the database for volunteering opportunities.

Learn something new. There are so many organisations providing online learning courses, and many of them are free or low-cost. Just search online using your favourite search engine, and explore what’s available. Also, check out Laneway Learning, MOOCs (massive open online courses), TAFEs, colleges and community houses. You’ll come out of this pandemic with so much knowledge you’ll wow everyone at your next trivia night 😉. And you’ll meet a bunch of like-minded people. Win-win!

Worship. Attending churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship with our family and friends isn’t an option for many people at the moment. The good news is that a lot of them are now online. Contact your place of worship or search online to see what events are being streamed and when. Gather with your extended family and friends virtually after worship to celebrate together.

“Invisible threads are the strongest ties.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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04/Aug/2021

Written by Jenny Hill

Hi, my name’s Jennifer, but I also answer to Jen, Jenny, Jen Jen and for many years during primary school – ‘Skippy’ (as in The Bush Kangaroo!). I’m 39 years old and was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis (JA) when I was in grade 4.

My memories of my initial symptoms, diagnosis and treatments are a little hazy, given it was 30 years ago, but my mum has provided a timeline of my journey and our experiences. I suggest you read her blog before mine.

My first experience of the pain that I’d later identify as JA followed a routine sprain of my left ankle. It didn’t seem to heal properly, leaving me with permanent swelling, immobility and terrible pain. I quickly went from playing netball and water skiing to crawling to get around the house.

Despite seeing an array of GPs and other health professionals, there was no explanation as to why my joints were so painful.

When I was finally diagnosed with juvenile arthritis, I felt some relief amidst the initial confusion and shock. There was something wrong; it wasn’t in my head, it had a name, and there were treatments for it.

I spent that first year adapting to my new lifestyle.

During school recesses, I’d sit in a courtyard adjacent to my classroom, observing my friends who found ways to play close by. I read as many books as I could to distract myself from boredom and pain. I took drama classes instead of competing in my beloved netball. I learnt how to style my hair to cover my baldness when my hair fell out. Before I visited the hospital, I focused on the treat of a McDonalds burger rather than the painful examinations. I learnt how to ‘save up’ my strength and pain tolerance for special days such as excursions. When I could walk, I learnt that the only way to try and keep up with others was to re-work my limp (which made me look like a pretty clumsy kangaroo!). I don’t think that I ever believed that this could be permanent. I just took it day by day.

Looking back on these early years – despite the pain and frustrating cycles of treatments or reactions to medication – I can’t help but think that I was lucky in many ways. During primary school, I didn’t experience bullying. I had a large number of friends who took turns sitting with me when I couldn’t play. My teachers tried hard to understand my diagnosis and were very supportive. Having three siblings meant I was rarely lonely, as there was always at least one of them at home who I could torment from the couch! And I had parents who were 100% on my team, reorganising their lives around me, fighting uphill battles with doctors, sitting up with me on painful nights, and showing me patience – never frustration.

I eventually had periods of remission that brought a lot of relief but also a lot of anger, frustration and sadness when symptoms reappeared and interrupted my life. I stopped talking about my JA. It was too hard, and I believed no one could understand. Thankfully though, remission followed me into high school!

I moved onto high school, where I was in classes with a few students from primary school. It was cool having different subjects to study and getting to know new friends. By then, I found it considerably easier to walk distances and even play some netball without too much pain! It was no longer so obvious that I had anything physically wrong with me.

This made it very difficult for me when I had my weeks or days of flare-ups, when the pain would suddenly and viciously return. This was sometimes due to spending too long on my feet shopping and hanging out with my friends, or for no particular reason at all. When this happened, I grew incredibly self-conscious, angry and embarrassed and the last thing I wanted to do was try to explain myself to new friends.

I couldn’t even make sense of it myself.

I tried to hide it from friends, often socially disconnecting, spending lunch alone in the library and wagging P.E classes. I felt quite low during these periods and resorted to denial. I tried to deny the whole situation, even when a friend told me his mum saw an article about my JA experience in New Idea magazine. I flat out denied it (though I think the photos of me in the article gave me away!).

Thankfully, I was invited to attend camps for young people run by the Arthritis Foundation of Victoria (now Musculoskeletal Australia) around this time. At first, I was hesitant to go. But once I got there, I was amazed to be with people my age going through the same stuff, with the same limitations and experiences. It provided a space to let down my guard, have fun, talk about my arthritis without it being a big deal, and have space to vent and complain about things with people who totally got it.

There was no point denying my arthritis around these people or that I was feeling pretty low and angry at times…we all did.

I remember how all the young people had their cortisone shots just before camp so they could participate in the activities. And how at the end of the day, when all our joints were aching, we’d commandeer the spare wheelchairs and motor scooters for a game of wheelie basketball. This peer support didn’t entirely cure how I felt, but it did mark a change in my attitude towards my arthritis and a shift in my social life.

I was more outspoken to friends about my past experiences and current limitations. I found that most people didn’t have lots of questions anyway. We were teenagers, and everyone was wrapped up in themselves!

My pain became quite manageable over the next couple of years. I even wore high heels to my middle school formal – medication-free! However, I still struggled with depression at times and eventually left school.

I went back to school and then to university. I got my Master’s Degree and have spent over 10 years working as a youth worker and in academia.

Apart from the odd flare-ups here and there, I’ve remained in remission. I’ve enjoyed many travel adventures and weekends at music festivals (often on the edge of the dancefloor with friends who know my physical limitations!). I even went on a solo hike around an island in Japan for a month, camping out in a tent!

I’ve also developed osteoporosis, but that’s another story.

As fantastic as it is that there’s growing recognition of the physical toll that JA puts on a young person, it’s essential to consider the psychological and social impact of JA on young people (and on their incredible families). The transition from primary to high school was challenging for me. I believe I would’ve had a much easier time if I’d had access to peer support and targeted mental health support.

If you’ve enjoyed reading my blog, check out my mum’s blog.

Jenny Hill


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04/Aug/2021

Our journey of discovery with juvenile arthritis

Written by Cathy Hill

Arthritis isn’t something you expect to hear your nine-year-old daughter has, but that’s what we were hearing as Jenny and I sat in the rheumatologist’s office in 1991. We’d gone from one doctor to the next, trying to find out what was wrong with Jenny’s ankle, which we thought she’d sprained, but the swelling wouldn’t go down.

Jenny enjoyed playing netball and was a very proficient player. However, a few months earlier she’d tripped over a log after playing netball. Her ankle became swollen and wouldn’t improve. The usual treatments of ice, compression, elevation and rest, did nothing to ease what we assumed was a sprained ankle.

A chiropractor had successfully treated me after I’d had a similar injury, so we took Jenny to see him. After a few sessions with no improvement, he suggested we go to our GP for blood tests, as he felt the problem was ‘something internal’. Our GP refused to listen to what the chiropractor suggested and told Jenny to ‘jump up and down on the trampoline. This upset us, as Jenny had difficulty walking let alone jumping on a trampoline! Our chiropractor then recommended a GP who he felt would listen to us. This GP sent Jenny to have blood tests and then referred Jenny to the rheumatologist we were speaking to now.

We were shocked to think that a 9-year-old could have arthritis. This doctor assured us that it could be treated and that Jenny could lead a healthy and active life. He started her on Voltaren, which certainly brought down the swelling but gave Jenny stomach pains. The doctor then decided to send Jenny to a paediatric rheumatologist at The Royal Children’s Hospital where they were able to successfully change her medication. After a couple of months Jenny’s condition had improved so much that it was declared that Jenny was in remission and she was able to stop the medication.

Unfortunately, this improvement was short-lived, and after another fall at netball Jenny’s right ankle swelled up, this time even worse. Jenny wasn’t able to walk on that leg at all, and I would drop her as close to her classroom as possible so that she could virtually crawl into her classroom. Thankfully she had a very good group of friends who stayed with her at playtimes in the courtyard right outside their room. Jenny would crawl inside the house, and I would have to lift her into the bath at night. Because we’d been told that she was in remission, we decided to try another form of treatment, this time a local naturopath who had been recommended to us. That treatment didn’t work, and Jenny’s foot was not only terribly swollen, but was also sticking out at almost a 45-degree angle from where it should have been!

We didn’t know what to do, so we went back to the GP who originally referred us to the first rheumatologist. He suggested that we try an orthopaedic surgeon who told us that Jenny’s bones in her ankle had fused together, but unfortunately at an unnatural angle. He wanted to be absolutely sure that he was doing the right thing to help Jenny, so he asked us to take her into St Vincent’s Hospital where she would participate in a ‘round table’ of various doctors. The doctors agreed with the orthopaedic surgeon’s first thought that he would manipulate Jenny’s foot under general anaesthetic and put it in a fibreglass cast for 6 weeks. This was done at the beginning of 1992, and thankfully the result was that her foot was at a much more normal angle. However, the foot was still swollen, so it was recommended that we go back to see the rheumatology team at the Children’s.

So began a series of X-rays and scans, new medication, regular physiotherapy, eye check-ups, and included visits to a lady who specialised in ligament damage, and who treated members of the Australian Ballet as well as AFL footballers. I had to do exercises twice daily with Jenny, which resulted in many arguments. I had returned to full-time teaching at the end of 1991, so it was difficult enough getting four children off to school in the mornings and then getting to my own school, as well as finding the time to do the exercises with a reluctant patient! Jenny’s right leg had lost a lot of muscle tone while in the cast, and together with the fused ankle meant that she was not walking properly. It was imperative that we do those exercises, but at that time it was hard for Jenny to understand that, especially as it caused her pain.

We’d contacted the Arthritis Foundation of Victoria (now Musculoskeletal Australia) for support, and they told us about the camps they ran for children with arthritis. Jenny’s rheumatologist was very keen for Jenny to attend, as he was sometimes involved with the camps. Before she attended the first camp, he wanted Jenny to have ultrasound-guided cortisone injections in her foot, under a twilight sedative. He assured us that it was routine for the children to have cortisone injections right before the camps so they could get the most out of the camp activities. Over the next few years Jenny was able to participate in three camps, including one in Sydney with children from all over Australia. The camps were extremely beneficial for Jenny, and indeed all the participants. There were children with all different types of arthritis, some in wheelchairs, and they were offered a wide range of activities which they wouldn’t normally be able to participate in, such as scuba diving.

In 1993, in grade 6, Jenny noticed that when brushing her hair she would have clumps of hair in her brush. She was losing hair in patches. The doctor thought this was probably due to stress. We approached Jenny’s teacher and asked whether she could wear a beanie inside as well as outside, but her teacher said that as they had a policy of no hats inside, it would only serve to draw more attention to her. We could see her reason, so asked our hairdresser whether she thought she could do anything to help. She was able to tie Jenny’s hair back into a ‘half up-half down’ hairstyle, which did a pretty good job of covering the bald patches. Jenny was in a great class with generally very caring kids, so she thankfully didn’t have problems with teasing. Grade 6 also meant school production, and this is where we realised Jenny had a great flair for acting. She committed herself to learning her lines and songs and was cast in one of the lead roles – a little dog called Puddles, who had a ‘wee’ little problem! Looking back now I wonder whether the involvement in the production provided an escape from the arthritis and pain.

Secondary school had its ups and downs. It involved a new set of teachers and a new bunch of kids, mixed in with some friends from primary school. With a letter from her rheumatologist, Jenny was given permission to wear Doc Marten shoes, which gave her right ankle extra support and allowed for the orthotics that had been made for her at the Children’s. The orthotics were used to absorb shock rather than provide arch support like my own orthotics. With the fused ankle Jenny did walk quite flat-footed, but arch supports wouldn’t have helped. Later on it would affect Jenny’s driving, but eventually she found that certain cars that enabled her to sit forwards over the wheel allowed a better angle for her foot, as the fusion of the ankle meant that there was little movement up and down.

At secondary school Jenny had her group of friends from primary school as well as other new friends. However, continuing flare-ups meant that she would often go and find a quiet place by herself at school, which affected some of her friendships. At the time we weren’t always aware of how much pain she was in, otherwise we would’ve asked her doctor whether there was anything else Jenny could take for the pain.

Jenny immersed herself in the music program at school, and we went to several music concerts. She still had a great interest in drama and was enrolled in a local drama school where she took part in several productions. Jenny was able to participate in netball again, although she was confined to the goal third of the court where she became quite a proficient shooter!

When Jenny was 15, her rheumatologist considered that she was in remission, so she was able to stop her medication. She’s now 39 and has chosen to eat a vegan diet, and although Jenny can still have flare-ups of pain in her joints she’s no longer dependent on any arthritis medication.

If you’ve enjoyed reading my blog, check out my daughter’s blog.

Cathy Hill


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03/Jun/2021

As people, we’re complex, multi-faceted and messy. And just as exercise, pain management, medications, and eating well are essential for good health, so too are the more nebulous aspects of wellbeing – happiness, satisfaction, comfort, social connections, a sense of purpose. When you’re managing your health, it’s important that we don’t neglect these other aspects of life.

So let’s look at some of the other things you can do to look after yourself when you live with a painful musculoskeletal condition.

Accept your pain

Acknowledging that your condition causes you persistent pain is an important step to managing it more effectively. You’re putting your energy into finding positive and practical ways to deal with it, rather than ignoring it or hoping it’ll just go away.

And research shows that people who worked on accepting pain reported lower pain intensity and better function than others.

Sounds so simple, right? Well, not always. It can be challenging to accept pain may be a constant in your life. It can be frustrating, and it may be a struggle at times. You may also go through periods where your pain does dominate your thinking and makes you anxious or sad.

That’s okay. Accept that this can happen. It’s completely normal when living with persistent pain to have these ups and downs.

Speaking with someone – a friend or family member, your GP, a pain specialist, a mental health therapist – can help you work through this so you can get back on track.
Writing it all down in a journal or pain diary is another option. The important thing is to keep working on it.

Stay connected

Living with persistent pain can be a lonely experience. Fear of aggravating their pain can sometimes stop people from doing the things they’ve always enjoyed – catching up with friends, playing sport and socialising. No longer having these connections can lead to people becoming isolated.

We’re now recognising that loneliness can cause a whole range of health issues – from depression to poorer cardiovascular health. In fact, research suggests it may pose a bigger risk for premature death than smoking or obesity. When it comes to musculoskeletal pain, feeling lonely can make you feel upset and distressed, which can increase pain and muscle tension. Any increased muscle tension has the potential to aggravate existing pain.

So how can you deal with loneliness?

  • Get in contact with friends and family. Catch up with them. Call them on the phone. Connect with them via social media. Just reach out and make the connection. Start small and gradually build up the amount of contact you have.
  • Join a walking group. As you know, exercise is an effective way to manage pain. So why not join a local walking group? You’ll meet people, and get some exercise as well. Contact your local neighbourhood house or search online for a group near you.
  • Adopt a pet. Pets are a wonderful comfort. They’re cute, they’re fun, they don’t judge you if you decide to stay in your pajamas all day. Having a pet has many health benefits, including decreasing cholesterol levels and blood pressure, reducing stress, improving your mood and importantly – reduced feelings of loneliness.
  • Join a knitting group/book club/art class/family history short course…whatever takes your fancy. Explore a new hobby or interest, and meet new people at the same time. Visit your local council website for details of what’s on in your area.
  • Join a support group. They bring together people with similar experiences in a supportive environment. Musculoskeletal Australia has many support groups that meet in person and online. Find a group today.
  • Volunteer. There are many opportunities to do volunteer work in Australia. Think of a cause near and dear to your heart – and explore local charities or organisations that need help. You’ll meet other people, make friends and connections, and support a cause that’s important to you. Check out the GoVolunteer website for volunteer opportunities.
  • Get help. If you feel like loneliness has become a big issue for you, and that the thought of doing any of these things is overwhelming, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional for support. And don’t forget there are services that can provide you with support when you need it, no matter the time of day.
    • Lifeline Australia (13 11 14 for 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention)
    • beyondblue (1300 224 636 for 24 hour support).

Listen to your favourite tunes

There’s plenty of evidence to support the use of music for managing pain. It’s been shown to reduce anxiety, fear, depression, pain-related distress and blood pressure. We also know that when we listen to our preferred style of music, there’s a positive effect on pain tolerance and perception, anxiety and feelings of control over pain. It’s not exactly clear how or why music can have such an effect on pain, but we do know that enjoyable music triggers the release of dopamine, which is a ‘feel-good’ hormone. Or it may be that music distracts your mind from focusing on your pain. Whatever the reason, it’s an easy, cost-effective way to get some relief from your pain. So create a special ‘pain playlist’, and load up your phone or music player of choice with your favourite tunes. And check out our recent blog on the power of music.

Create a care package

Anyone who lives with a musculoskeletal condition knows how unpredictable they can be. You can be managing really well and doing all the right things when suddenly a flare hits. Something you can do to look after yourself at this time is to open a care package.

It’s a simple act of self-care that can provide a much-needed boost to your mood.

When you’re feeling healthy and pain-free, gather together the things that make you happy and give you comfort when you’re feeling down or unwell. Put them together in a box or a basket so that you can access them easily when pain strikes.

While it won’t make pain miraculously go away, it can provide a distraction and give your spirits a lift.

What you put in your care package it entirely up to you. It may be a guilty pleasure magazine that you enjoy reading every now and again, or some of your favourite quality chocolate, your pain playlist, photos from a wonderful holiday, mementos from your childhood…or all/none of the above. Whatever you put in there is purely for you. So get creative!

Remain working as long as you can

Working is good for our health and wellbeing – it gives us confidence, builds self-esteem, makes us happy and shapes our identity.

Working has many other benefits, including financial security, meeting and interacting with other people, learning new skills and challenging yourself. Ensuring you can stay in the workforce for as long as you want/need is vital for many reasons – including managing your health.

However there are times when your condition may interfere with your work.

The good news is there are many things you can do to help you stay at work, such as pain management techniques (e.g. mindfulness), medication, modifying your workspace, using aids and equipment (e.g. modified mouse and keyboard, lumbar supports) and having some flexibility with the hours worked. Talk with your doctor and an occupational therapist for information and advice about staying in the workforce. And consider talking with your employer about potential modifications to your workspace and/or role that may help when your condition flares.

Be in the moment

Mindfulness meditation focuses your mind on the present moment. It trains your mind to be alert and pay attention to the thoughts and the sensations you feel and accept them without judgement.

Regularly practising mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve mood, relieve stress, improve sleep, improve mental health and reduce pain.

The beauty of mindfulness is that you can do it walking, standing, sitting or even lying down. And the more you do it, the more benefits you’ll experience. The practice of mindfulness also translates to being more mindful in your everyday life.

To practise mindfulness meditation you can join a class, listen to a CD, learn a script from a book or play an online video or DVD. There are many different techniques. Here are just a few:

  • body scan – a simple technique to give you a taste of mindfulness meditation is a body scan. It helps you become aware of your body in the present moment.
  • focusing on your breath – pay attention to the way air moves in and out of your nose or mouth, and how it feels.
  • mantra meditation – involves chanting inaudibly or very softly to yourself a word or phrase that resonates with you.
  • sound meditation – focus your attention on a sound. This can be music or your surroundings (e.g. the wind in the trees, the sound of rain on your roof).
  • movement meditation – this is usually done as walking meditation, but you can practise it while moving in any way; for example tai chi and yoga are forms of moving meditation. Try and do this out in nature for maximum effect.

When you start meditating, be realistic. It involves regular practise and patience. Start with five minutes a day and gradually increase to 10 minutes and then more over a period of weeks and months.

Obviously the more often and the longer you do it, the more benefit you’ll get. However, even five minutes a day will be beneficial. You’ll notice changes in your consciousness very quickly as well as reduced pain, improved sleep, acceptance of situations, improved sense of wellbeing and better physical and social functioning.

“To ensure good health: eat lightly, breathe deeply, live moderately, cultivate cheerfulness, and maintain an interest in life.” – William Londen

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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22/Apr/2021

13 strategies to get you through

Living with a chronic musculoskeletal condition sucks. It may only suck occasionally, or it may suck a lot of the time. But there’s no denying that living with pain, fatigue and uncertainty isn’t a fun day at the beach.

In our 2020 national survey, we asked people how their condition affected all aspects of their life. One thing that stood out dramatically was that of the more than 3,400 who took part, 52% said their condition affected their ability to enjoy life in general.

That’s enjoying life in general – not enjoying big life events or travel – but life in general. And that’s disturbing and very, very sad.

Unfortunately there are no quick fixes for improving quality of life, or the enjoyment you get out of your day-to-day reality. Living with a musculoskeletal condition means that life isn’t always predictable. You can be going through a period of stability then suddenly – bam – you wake up feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck. Or your emotions or mental health suddenly take a downward turn. Living with a chronic condition, or multiple conditions, is a tricky, complicated balancing act.

But there are some things you can do, if you feel you need something to help you get on top of the ‘blahs’ and hopefully start to feel more happy, optimistic and fulfilled. They’re the tried and true ones I use when life starts to feel a bit grey.

  1. Get on top of your condition and pain management (as much as possible)
    If your condition is affecting your ability to enjoy life in general, is it because it’s not well managed or you’re in constant pain? If so, it’s time to talk with your healthcare team about how you can get on top of this. Complete pain relief may not be an option for all people, but getting your pain to a level that you can cope with, and so it’s not severely impacting your ability to enjoy life is doable. It may take some time and effort, but it can be done. Talk with your doctor and healthcare team to develop a plan to get your condition and symptoms under control. And read our A-Z guide to managing pain for more info.
  2. Get some sleep
    One of the biggest factors that affects our mood and mental health is lack of sleep. It’s much more difficult to cope with every day stresses, family life, work/study, as well as managing your health, if you’re exhausted. After dealing with poor quality sleep for some months, I recently took time off work to try and get myself into a better sleep routine. I exercised, went to bed at a reasonable time, ensured I got up at the same time every day, and limited caffeine, alcohol and screen time for several hours before I went to bed. My sleep quality – while still not perfect – is much better. Taking time away from your responsibilities may not be an option for everyone, but there are other strategies you can try to improve your sleep quality. Find out more.
  3. Make time for you
    Ever had those days/weeks when you feel like your life is consumed by everyone else’s problems and issues, and yours keep getting pushed further and further back? If that’s the case – it’s time to take some time back for you. However much time you can carve out of your day, just do it. You deserve and need it. Take the time to rest/meditate/read/go for a walk/just breathe. You’ll feel much better for it and be more equipped to help others afterwards.
    “Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brown
  4. Connect with your peeps
    It’s an easy trap to fall into. When you feel crappy, and everything seems too hard, staying at home in your safe and cosy cocoon feels like all you can bear to do. You don’t want to share your miserable mood, or let others see how you’re really feeling. But this can become a vicious cycle, and before you know it, you lose touch with family and friends, or miss out on fun times, and important events. If you don’t feel up to going out, call your people. Chat, catch up with each other over the phone or video. Share how you’re feeling (it’s up to you how much detail you go into), and just enjoy the connection. When you’re able to, even if it’s an effort, try to get out and see your peeps. They care about you, and you’ll feel happier for making the effort.
    “It’s not what we have in our life, but who we have in our life that counts.” – J.M. Laurence 
  5. Schedule time to relax
    It may seem crazy, but in this busy world we live in, if you don’t schedule time for relaxation, it often doesn’t happen. I’m not talking about the near comatose slouching on the couch at the end of the day, type of relaxing. But the things that actually refresh body, mind and spirit, and ease your stress and muscle tension. This includes meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, massage, a warm shower or bath, going for a walk or listening to music. So think about the things that relax and refresh you, and make time to do those things each week.
  6. Focus on self-care
    Take time to evaluate your self-care plan. Is it covering all aspects of your life, health and wellbeing? Not only your physical health, but mental and emotional health as well? Or do you need to create a self-care plan? For help to get you started, read our recent 7 pillars of self-care article. It has lots of info to help you understand self-care, as well as resources to help you create a self-care plan.
  7. Enjoy the small things
    One of the silver linings of the COVID lockdowns for me was that we were forced to live smaller, and as a result really take note and appreciate the little things in our lives. When we could only walk in our local area, I noticed amazing gardens and parks that I hadn’t known existed. It gave me the chance to enjoy the quiet as we worked on a jigsaw or crossword puzzle together. I read, I learned some yoga, I rode my bike. I talked with my young niece and nephew over the phone, and listened as they excitedly told me about their daily adventures. I enjoyed the breeze on my face when I went for a walk, the glow of the full moon, the smell in the air after a rainstorm. Taking a moment to enjoy, and be thankful for these little things, lifted my mood and made me smile. It’s simple, but so powerful. And perfectly segues into my next tip…
  8. Be grateful
    Sometimes we get so bogged down in what’s going on in our life – our problems and issues, family dramas, and the million things that need to be done at home and work – that we can’t see all the good things in our lives. The Resilience Project has a range of activities and resources exploring how we can feel grateful by “paying attention to the things that we have right now, and not worrying about what we don’t have”. Visit their website to find out more about being grateful in your everyday life.
  9. Write a wish list of the places you want to go
    I love to explore. Whether it’s overseas, interstate or my local area. And I subscribe to countless newsletters and alerts that provide info about interesting walks, galleries and exhibitions, cafes and restaurants, and upcoming markets and festivals. I add these to a burgeoning list on my phone, complete with links. This gives me a never-ending list of adventures. And nothing pulls me out of the doldrums like an adventure! Depending on what I’m doing, I do need to take into account my condition, how I feel that day etc. But a little planning, sharing the driving with others, and just being leisurely and not rushing, means that I get to enjoy some amazing things. Just seeing a list of opportunities is exciting, so I’d recommend giving it a go.
    “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!” ― Dr. Seuss
  10. Be mindful
    How many times have you eaten dinner, but can’t really remember what it tasted like because you were watching TV? Or gone for a walk but can’t remember much of what you saw, felt or experienced? If this sounds familiar, try some mindfulness. You may have heard of mindfulness meditation, but you can also be mindful when you do other activities, like eating or walking. It simply means that you focus your attention on the moment and the activity, without being distracted. So when you’re eating, really take time to focus on the textures, smells and flavours, and how the food makes you feel. Or when you’re walking, how does the ground feel under your feet, the sun on your face, the wind in your hair? Do you hear birds in the trees, are there dogs running in the park? Be aware and enjoy it all.
  11. Try something new
    From time to time we can get stuck in the rut of everyday life/work/study/home activities. And while having a daily routine is an important strategy for living with a chronic condition, sometimes we just need a little something extra, something new and exciting to get us out of the doldrums. What have you always wanted to do? What’s on your bucket list? Learning a language? Visiting a special place? Writing a book? There are lots of low and no cost online courses that can teach a range of skills from juggling, cooking, origami, geology, playing the guitar, speaking Klingon. And while we can’t travel to a lot of places – especially overseas at the moment – you can still travel virtually and whet your appetite for when the borders reopen. The point is, adding something new and interesting to your everyday life makes you feel more fulfilled and optimistic. Just head to your favourite search engine, and start searching!
    “Don’t be afraid to try new things. They aren’t all going to work, but when you find the one that does, you’re going to be so proud of yourself for trying.” – Anonymous
  12. Exercise
    I can’t get through an article without talking about exercise 😊. It’s just so important, and can improve not only your physical health, but your mental and emotional wellbeing. I find it’s the perfect thing to do whenever I’m feeling at my lowest. It can be hard to get up and go, but even if it’s a short walk outside, or 10 minutes of stretching exercises, or some yoga – just making the effort and getting the blood moving, immediately lifts my mood, and distracts from my symptoms. That’s because when you exercise your body releases chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine into your bloodstream. They’re sometimes called ‘feel-good’ chemicals because they boost your mood and make you feel good. They also interact with receptors in your brain and ‘turn down the volume’ on your pain system. So grab your walking shoes, or exercise mat, and let the endorphins flow!
  13. Seek help
    If you feel like your condition is significantly affecting your ability to enjoy life, and these basic strategies aren’t enough to change that, talk with your doctor. Be honest and open, and explain how you’re feeling. You may need to talk with a counsellor or psychologist so that you can explore some strategies, tailored specifically to you, to help you get through this rough patch.
    “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Vivian Greene

Crisis support

If this article has raised some issues with you or you feel like you need help during this stressful time, there’s help available. Contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 for 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention. https://www.lifeline.org.au/about-lifeline/contact-us

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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19/Nov/2020

I’ve just taken a week off from work. I was struggling mentally and physically, so I decided it was important to take time to pause, reflect and reconnect.

But it was really tough to do.

I think part of my problem was I felt like I needed permission to feel how I was feeling and to take a break. It felt self-indulgent to feel sad when there are people in a ‘worse’ situation than I am; who are working so hard just to make ends meet; who are facing relationship issues. How dare I feel this way? I have a loving partner, a home, a job, and wonderful family and friends. I can now move around freely outside of my 25kms and enjoy the spring weather.

I have all of these things, so I felt selfish for feeling sad and for worrying those around me.

But while catching up with friends and family last week, I found I wasn’t alone in feeling this way.

So for anyone out there who needs to hear this, it’s ok.

It’s ok to take a break or to rest. You’re not a machine. You need time to recover – physically and mentally – from the things that are affecting you. That way when you do return to what you were doing, you’ll feel refreshed and more able to deal with everything.

It’s ok to say no. We all want to please others, so saying no can be a challenge. But you need to weigh up all the things you have going on and decide whether you can take on something else. If you can’t, then say no. And don’t feel you have to apologise for doing so.

It’s ok to listen to your body. In fact it’s a necessity. Living with a chronic condition means that you need to be self-aware of how you’re feeling. If you’re tired, rest. If your back hurts, move. If you’re feeling sluggish, get some fresh air. Whatever your body is telling you, listen and take action.

It’s ok to be kind to yourself. Our inner critic can be really loud at times. If yours is giving you grief, ask yourself – would you say those things to someone you love? The answer is probably no. So quiet that inner voice by making a list of three things you like about yourself and stick it on the fridge or bathroom mirror. Remind yourself of these things regularly.

It’s ok not to be perfect. No one is, no matter how they appear on social media.

It’s ok to let go of the things that drain you. For me, that was the news. I was watching it constantly and getting more and more depressed by the state of the world, and how people treat each other. So now I read the news highlights, get more detail on the things that matter to me, and discard the rest. Think about the things that drain you (and this may include people) and if you can, let it go. Or at least limit your exposure to it.

It’s ok to put yourself first. Sometimes we need to make ourselves our top priority – whether that’s physically, mentally and/or emotionally. You’ll be more able to help others when you’ve taken time to look after yourself.

It’s ok to talk about mental health. In fact it’s really important that we do. The more we talk about mental health and how we’re feeling, the less stigma will surround it. Which will lead to more people opening up about their mental health and getting help when they need it.

It’s ok to not watch the news. Take time to unplug from the 24/7 news cycle and focus on the world around you – your family, friends and environment.

It’s ok to forgive yourself. This comes back to our inner critic. We often beat ourselves up for the smallest of mistakes. If you made a mistake – and ask yourself if you really did make a mistake or are you being super-critical of yourself – look at what you did, learn from it and then move on. Don’t keep thinking about it – it’ll only drive you crazy and make you unhappy.

It’s ok to have a messy house. Or to have a pile of laundry that needs folding. Or for the grass to need mowing. Or for pet hair to cover ever surface of your home. Sometimes things get a little untidy as we prioritise our health and wellbeing over a perfectly made bed, sparkling bathroom or fluffed-up cushions. And that’s ok.

It’s ok to not be ok and feel sad/angry/vulnerable. Your feelings are valid and they matter. However if you feel like these feelings are taking over, talk with someone. A trusted friend or family member, or a healthcare professional. While it’s ok to feel like this from time to time, you don’t want to feel like this all the time. And you don’t have to. There’s help available.

It’s ok to cry. We all have difficult days and crying can be an outlet when we feel sad, stressed, overwhelmed, scared, angry or in pain. So grab a box of tissues and let it out.

It’s ok to do more of the things that make you feel good. Love a massage? A walk on the beach? Sitting in your garden with a cup of tea and a book? Whatever it is that makes you feel good is not an indulgence, but a necessity to help you recharge your battery and make you a happier person.

It’s ok to put your phone down or away. We look at them too often anyway, so put it away for an hour, a day, a week. Be present and be mindful of the people and the world around you.

It’s ok to admit you’re struggling. And it’s ok to ask for help. It doesn’t mean you’re not a capable person. It just means that in this time and place, or for this task you need some help. And that’s fine. We all need help every now and then.

It’s ok to take your time. We don’t always have to be in a hurry. Make space to breathe and be still, meditate and be mindful.

It’s ok to not have all the answers. You’re not Google or Encyclopedia Brittanica. Saying ‘I don’t know’ is a valid and human thing to say.

It’s ok to put down your ‘to do’ list and be spontaneous. Lists can help us feel in control and organised, but sometimes it’s freeing to toss the list aside and just do something unexpected, just because you can.

So it’s really ok to sing, to dance, to walk barefoot in the park, to hug the stuffing out of your partner/kids/pets. We’re living through a global pandemic, which is affecting us in so many ways, so it’s important and very much ok to find the joy and welcome it with open arms.

And remember, it’s ok to be you.

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

Crisis support

If this article has raised some issues with you or you feel like you need help during this stressful time, there’s help available. Contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 for 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention.

More to explore


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10/Sep/2020

Last issue we talked about spring cleaning our physical environment. There’s nothing like a thorough purge of your home or office, and the sense of satisfaction when everything is clean and organised just the way you like it.

But it’s also a really good time to start thinking about how you can spring clean yourself – your body, mind and spirit.

2020 has been a really tough year and it’s not over yet.

We’ve been isolated, locked down, separated from loved ones, working from home (or lost work) and home schooling. Through it all we’ve done the best we can to cope with a really difficult situation. But that takes a toll on us – physically and mentally – especially if you’re living with a chronic condition, pain and fatigue.

So let’s take advantage of the warmer days and the extra downtime many of us are dealing with and look at how we can sweep away the cobwebs and make ourselves sparkle this spring!

  • Unplug. We’re always connected these days, immersed in the news, social media, video chats, work/school, phone calls. We’re never far away from a phone, tablet or computer – and we need to step away. Schedule time to put it all aside: perhaps after dinner, or for an hour during your day, or for your entire Sunday. Whatever works for you and your commitments. Just make sure you take some time away from the digital world, step outside and breathe in the fresh, sweet smelling spring air.
  • Say no. We’re wired to want to please others, so we often find it difficult to say no. But that can make us become overwhelmed and stressed with the number of commitments we have. That’s why we need to look after ourselves and start saying no. The next time someone asks you to do something, give yourself a moment. Don’t answer immediately with an automatic ‘yes’. Ask yourself if this is something you want to do? Are you able to do it – physically and mentally? Do you have the time to do it? Will it bring you happiness? If you answered no to these questions, then you should say no to the request. You may disappoint some people and they may be a little unhappy with you. But you need to be true to who you are and stand firm. And don’t feel the need to give detailed reasons for saying no. Saying no is really hard, but it will become easier.
  • Change your routine. Do you feel like you’re stuck in a rut? I know it feels like Groundhog Day at times! So look at your routine. What can you change? Take your work/school commitments out of the equation for now. Do you spend your evenings on the couch? Or weekends doing the same old things? Stop and really think about what you would actually ‘like’ to do with your free time. Go for a bike ride? Take up painting? Visit a new place each week? Find things that you enjoy, and fill you with anticipation and happiness, and do them. Now think about your work routine. There may not be things you can change about work – but why not put on your favourite outfit/earrings/shoes/lipstick – even if you’re working from home. Or use some new stationary or bit of tech. It’s amazing how these small changes give us a mental boost.
  • Focus on the basics – eat well, move, sleep – repeat. This time of the year we have access to amazing fresh produce that’s just crying out to be made into delicious salads and stir fries. The days are getting longer and warmer so we can get outside more for our exercise. We can shed the heavy blankets and adjust our sleep habits. There’s never been a better time than now to focus on these basics and make improvements if needed. And finally, make sure you’re staying hydrated by drinking enough water each day.
  • Surround yourself with positive, upbeat people. Positivity and happiness is contagious. And in the midst of a pandemic – this is the kind of contagion we need. These people will inspire you, make you feel good about yourself and the world in general. Too much contact with negative people (in person and via social media) does the opposite and makes the world a gloomy place. So seek out the happy, positive people and enjoy their company. And if you can, ditch the negative people.
  • Take some time out to relax. Try strategies like mindfulness, visualisation and guided imagery. Or read a book, listen to music, walk the dog, create something, play a computer game, have a bubble bath or massage. Whatever relaxes you. And make sure you do these things on a regular basis. They’re not an indulgence – they’re a necessity and vital to our overall happiness and wellbeing.
  • Let’s get serious – sugar, fats, alcohol and drugs. Many of us have been seeking comfort in sugary and/or fatty foods more than we’d like. Or we’ve been using alcohol and/or drugs to make us feel better. Over time this becomes an unhealthy habit. So it’s time to get serious. Ask yourself if your intake of these things has changed or increased? If it has – what do you need to do to fix this? Can you decrease their use by yourself? Or do you need help from your family, doctor or other health professional? The sooner you acknowledge there’s a problem, the sooner you can deal with it.
  • Nurture your relationships. It’s easy to take the people around us for granted, but these people support and care for us day in and day out. They deserve focused time and attention from us. So sit down and talk with your kids about their day. Make time for a date night with your partner and cook a special meal to share together. Call or visit your parents and see how they’re really doing. Reminisce with your siblings about childhood antics and holidays. Our relationships are the glue that holds everything together for us – so put in the effort. You’ll all feel so much better for it.
  • Quit being so mean to yourself. You’re valued and loved. But sometimes we forget that. And the negative thoughts take over. “I’m fat”, “I’m hopeless”, “I’m lazy”, “I’m a burden”. If you wouldn’t say these things to another person, then why are you saying them to yourself? Ask yourself why you even think these things? And how can you reframe these thoughts? If, for example, you tell yourself you’re fat – are you actually overweight or are you comparing yourself to the unrealistic media image of how a person should look? And if you do know you need to lose weight, and want to make that happen, put those steps in motion. Talk with your doctor for some guidance and help. And congratulate yourself for taking action. And as you make these changes be kind to yourself along the journey. There will be stumbles, but that’s expected. You can pick yourself up and move on. Kindly.
  • Throw away the ‘should’s. This is similar to the negative self-talk…we need to stop should-ing ourselves to death. This often happens after we’ve been on social media and seen someone’s ‘amazing’ life. You start thinking “I should be better at X”, “I should be doing X”, “I should be earning X”, “I should look like X”. Remember that most people only put their best images on social media, so everyone’s life looks wonderful. But you’re just seeing the superficial, filtered person, not the whole, and they probably have just as many insecurities as the rest of us. Instead of thinking “I should…”, be grateful for who you are and what you have.
  • Be thankful and grateful. You exist! And yes, the world is a strange and sometimes frightening place at the moment, but you’re here to see it. People love and care for you. Focus on the people in your life and the things you’re grateful to have in your life. Celebrating these things – both big and small – reminds us why we’re here. To bring joy and happiness to those around us, and to make the world a better place.

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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16/Jul/2020

“Whooooa, and don’t it feel good!”

Gotta love the eighties and music from bands like Katrina and the Waves, right?

And even though there’s only a glimmer of sunshine in Melbourne as I’m writing this and I’m a bit chilly from the quick walk I took round the block, I’m certainly feeling brighter than I did 15 minutes ago! Especially with the tune of that song stuck in my head.

While I was out I couldn’t help but notice how many people were also out for a stroll. It seems that everyone’s rediscovered walking during the pandemic.

This is one of the most positive things to have emerged due to COVID. People are pulling on their walking shoes and hitting the paths.

Family groups, deliriously happy dogs with their owners, single people with their headphones on – and everyone doing the COVID smile as you pass by. It’s lovely.

Walking is a great way to exercise. It costs nothing, it’s suitable for most people, and it gets you out and about.

It’s a fantastic way to wind down after a long day of work. It can help you relax, especially if you’re feeling stressed or anxious because of the crazy state of the world. There are so many things we have no control over at the moment, but going for a walk? That’s something we can control.

The fresh air, the exercise, and listening to something interesting – your family, a friend, a podcast or music – it’s a great way to boost your mood.

If you don’t exercise much, walking might be a good way for you to build up your activity levels – though be sure to talk with your doctor first to get the all-clear. Then start slow.

Try walking 30 minutes a day on most days of the week and you’ll really notice the health benefits. It can help you manage your pain, lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, it can lift your mood, help you get a good night’s sleep, improve your bone and joint health and increase heart and lung fitness.

If you can’t walk 30 minutes at a time, break the walking up over your day. Three 10 minute walks, six 5 minute walks…it all adds up.

And if 30 minutes most days isn’t achievable for you at the moment, set yourself a goal so that it becomes achievable. Think about your daily commitments, your level of fitness, your pain/fatigue levels and all of the other things that affect you day to day. Now create a SMART goal. That’s a goal that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and has a Time-frame that works for you. Read our blog about goal setting for more info.

Walking tips

  • Wear comfortable, appropriate clothing and shoes. Your shoes should support your feet and have a non-slip sole. Clothes should be loose and/or stretchy enough to allow you to walk without restrictions. And don’t forget a hat on sunny days.
  • Warm up and cool down to prevent injuries or pain. While you might be eager to just get out there or you want to stay ahead of a group of people coming up behind you, it’s important that you take the time to let your muscles and joints warm up. And when you’re close to finishing your walk, take the time to slow it down and give your body the chance to cool down. Don’t forget to incorporate some basic stretches after you’ve warmed up and after you’ve cooled down. Check out these ones from the Arthritis Foundation (USA).
  • Remember to physically distance from other people when you’re out for your walk. Keep at least 1.5 metres between yourself and others. That doesn’t include members of your household.
  • Choose quieter times to walk if you live in a busy, densely populated area. Try walking early in the morning, or in the evening, as long as it’s safe to do so.
  • Avoid the really popular parks and paths. It’s just too hard to maintain that 1.5 metres when you’re surrounded on all sides by people. It can also make your walk less enjoyable if there are crowds of people and lots of noise. Find parks and walking trails that are less crowded, or go at a different time of the day/week.
  • Make it social (if you can) – walk with a friend, your family, kids, the dog.
  • Listen to music, audio books, podcasts. Going for a walk by yourself gives you space for some alone time. Listen to something that interests you and relax as you get some exercise.
  • Make walking a part of your regular routine. Go at the same time each day – e.g. before/after work, after lunch.
  • Don’t go out if you’re sick – stay home and look after yourself. This is especially important if you’re experiencing any COVID symptoms such as a fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath. Find out more about COVID symptoms on the Australian Government website.
  • Be mindful while you’re walking. Really take time to be in the moment and experience the walk. How do your feet feel as they connect with the ground? What can you smell? How does the wind feel on your face? This is an opportunity to really connect with what you’re doing and savour every moment.
  • Explore new places. Obviously follow the directions of the health officer in your state/territory, but if you’re able to explore new walking trails, parklands and suburbs, do it. As many of us have discovered during lockdown, walking the same paths day after day can become a little tedious. Mixing it up will make your walks more interesting. Comedian and radio host Tony Martin and his partner have spent more than 10 years exploring the streets of Melbourne, with the goal to walk every single street! While your goal doesn’t need to be this challenging, it may inspire you to pull out the old Melways or use your GPS to discover new and interesting places to walk.
  • Take a water bottle – it can be thirsty work! And depending how far you’re walking, consider taking a small backpack for your water bottle and any other supplies you think may need such as snacks, a map, band aids (just in case) and your phone.
  • Track your walking with a pedometer or fitness activity tracker. This’s a great way to see how you’ve progressed over time. And many of the walking apps allow you to challenge others, so if you can’t physically walk together, you can in spirit.
  • Increase the distance and intensity of your walks over time. To see the health benefits from your walking, you need to push yourself to go further and harder.
  • And if you catch the walking bug (that sounds a little gross but you know what I mean), consider joining a walking or bushwalking group when restrictions ease. You’ll meet other people who love walking, explore new places together and get lots of tips and advice to make your walking more enjoyable and challenging.
  • And last but not least…walk with us! At least in spirit. Our Walk in July is happening as we speak. People of all ‘walks’ of life (sorry for that), ages, conditions and locations are walking virtually whenever and wherever they want to raise awareness of musculoskeletal conditions and to raise funds for Musculoskeletal Australia. Join us and together we can make a difference to the lives of those who need it most!

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but just some of the sites that provide useful info about different walks and trails in Australia.




Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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