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There is an old saying that goes something like, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem is a nail.”

I have a good friend who, among her other amazing qualities, is extremely knowledgeable about hormones and has published a book that empowers women going through menopause toward self evaluation and self help (What About Menopause Don’t You Understand? http://hormoneguru.com/). In the past year that I have had both my hip and my shoulder replaced, she lost her husband to colon cancer and became a breast cancer survivor, so she has had more than a crash course. It is not uncommon that our conversations drift into medical discussions. When I comment on a new symptom or ache, she offers insight into which conditions might be causing it and which hormones or natural supplements might ease the situation.

While I certainly respect her knowledge, and I love her for caring about me, I know that not all things are hormone related, just like I know that not every one of my aches and pains is related to RA.

Or are they?

That’s one of the toughest things about this condition for me to deal with. It would be easy to define myself  via RA, to scrutinize each new creaking joint and ache through the lens of the disease. However, I suspect the stiff, aching neck and shoulders has more to do with working 14-hour days on a computer than a sudden progression of RA. On the other hand, I also don’t doubt that working long hours, hunched over a keyboard aggravates already inflamed tissues, perhaps giving the disease an edge it wouldn’t have if I had a different life.

I recently read another blog where the author took umbrage about people flippantly saying their aches and pains were arthritis when those of us who truly have the disease understand the difference. On the other hand, how many of us had years of unresolved aches and pains before the disease manifested itself enough to be diagnosed? Who is to say that those minor aches and pains suffered by others aren’t the harbinger of something more insidious?

But back to the point. Having a diagnosis puts a different perspective on your life. Whether you want to or not, you evaluate any change in your joints as a person with RA, which is much different from a person without it. I have to decide whether the pain in my feet today is the onset of a flare, a result of the changing weather, or perhaps wearing a different pair of shoes yesterday. People who don’t have RA don’t think about those things. They have tools other than hammers and look at life through different-colored lenses.