I’ve been hitting the gym four to five times a week for over two years now. What have I learned?

The process of growing muscle and getting fit isn’t a mystery. It’s a matter of lifting, pushing or pulling weights using the correct technique, following a well balanced diet by eating plenty of protein and planned rest. Rinse and repeat 🙂

It’s not a secret formula, it’s supported by a shed load of scientific research. It’s pure biology. Action and reaction. Though it did take me some time to fine-tune my program to suit my needs.

I totally underestimated the mental and emotional impact of hitting the gym four to five times a week. Those cranial muscles have grown too. In fact my mental and emotional muscles are so strong that I’m able to take the pain caused by RA head on. A few years ago I’d stop doing an exercise if it hurt. Early in this routine I started to push through the pain. I no longer wanted the pain to prevent me from doing an exercise. I moved with the pain and that made it disappear.

I actively push the boundaries and extend the limits of my body. I learned I can handle it. Slowly I got fitter, my muscles started developing and most importantly, I was able to do more in a day. I had created more spoons. I gained more confidence, I started to trust my body more. This increased strength triggered my body to release all traumas and pain from my past and consequently sent me into an Uber dimension of depression early this year. I found a psychotherapist, laid all my shit out in front of him and started to deal with it. I am and was driven to tackle these issues, and it’s working.

A lot of penny’s dropped during this process and I’m sure there are many that will follow. But it’s really, really tough and a lot of hard work. Especially when I’m confronted by my patterns and actions. I push through because I’m convinced I’m on the right track. It’s very hard to build mental muscle. There isn’t a fixed formula to find yourself. It’s pure psychology.


Cradle to Grave

The art installation Cradle to Grave is located in the centre of the Welcome Trust Gallery on a 14 metre long table at the British Museum in London.

Two ‘pill diaries’ of a British man and woman are laid out on this table. The stories of these diaries are told with the pills and other medication this man and woman have taken throughout their lives, from cradle to grave.

The textile artist Susie Freeman made little pockets of nylon for each individual pill and sewed them together to make two long cloths. These cloths are the two pill diaries of the man and woman, displaying their medical history in chronological order. Alongside the diaries there are other forms of medication, like syringes from inoculations and X-rays. The artist collaborated with a video artist and physician and the installation only contains prescribed treatments, so no medication that can be bought over the counter like paracetamol, vitamins or other supplements.

When I read the description of the piece I was shocked to learn that both diaries contain 14,000 pills, the average that a Brit takes in his or her life. My son and I walked around the table, taking in the display of all those pills in front of us.

“You haven’t taken that many pills, right?”, he asked me.

“No, I don’t think so kiddo.”, I replied.

But then I started doing the math. I was diagnosed with RA 15 years ago this week (happy RAnniversary to me) and I’ve taken medication to combat the disease the entire period. I’ve taken more meds in the first eights years than in the last seven. During my RA-era I’ve taken 18,000 pills and injections, and that’s a conservative estimate. And it doesn’t include other medication in that period let alone pre-RA!

After taking a few photos, I took a couple of steps back. The visual manifestation of the pill-diaries hit me like a ton of bricks.

“Shit! My pill-diary is a lot longer than the one in front of me.”

My son appeared next to me. We looked at each other for a moment, turned around and walked into the London sunshine.

Ferhaan Kajee



The actress Robin Wright compared the character she portrays in the series House of Cards with the art form cubism. Cubism is structured, compartmentalised, intriguing and scheming, traits I’d definitely use to describe Clarie Underwood. She described her co-star’s character, played by Kevin Spacey, as a Jackson Pollock; an orator, always talking without any filter, just throwing it out there.

This analogy made me wonder which art form portrays rheumatoid arthritis as I experience it. Baroque has elements that I would attribute to RA, in particular the 17th-century Dutch Masters. The dramatic effects, stark contrasts, strong emotions and bustle are certainly aspects I associate with RA. But the realism of Baroque doesn’t quite apply to it, because on the outside you can’t see I have this disease. I find the different points of view of Impressionism quite appealing. From a distance you see a nice simple picture, but as you move closer to the canvas the complexity of the artwork becomes increasingly evident. As much as I’d want it to be there, there’s no structure to the course of the disease, so Cubism isn’t a good fit even if there is something to be said about the chicanery of this art form. In Amersfoort, the birthplace of Mondriaan, we’re celebrating 100 years of De Stijl. I compare the process of simplifying forms, as is Mondriaan’s signature, to getting to the essence of RA. Every square and rectangle and each colour represent a different aspect of the disease, like pain, fatigue and inflammation, while the true meaning of the painting can be found on a much deeper level. Van Gogh’s post-impressionistic works move me the most. The chaos of the dollops of paint on the canvas, misunderstood in his time, but having the capacity to deeply touch people from afar. His works inspire me most, even if Picasso’s ability to distort objects might be a better metaphor for my life with rheumatoid arthritis. Abstract art as a whole is a better fit; RA is a disease that is misunderstood by many. Whatever art movement fits your disease, remember that living with RA is an art form in itself.


In een talkshow vergeleek actrice Robin Wright haar personage uit de serie House of Cards met de kunstvorm kubisme. Die is namelijk gesloten, gestructureerd en intrigerend. Haar tegenspeler, gespeeld door Kevin Spacey, is een flapuit. Hij heeft geen filter een gooit alles op het doek, een Jackson Pollock dus. Deze vergelijking deed me afvragen welke kunstvorm bij mijn reuma past. Er is veel te vinden in de Barok, met name de Hollandse meesters uit de 17e eeuw. De dramatische effecten, sterke contrasten, veel emotie en drukte zijn uitingen die ik zeker in mijn reuma herken. Maar het realisme valt er buiten, want aan mijn voorkomen is niet te zien dat ik ziek ben. De verschillende invalshoeken van het impressionisme spreken me aan. Van een afstand zie je het mooie beeld terwijl de complexiteit zichtbaarder wordt naarmate je dichterbij het doek gaat staan. Van enige structuur in mijn ziekteverloop is geen sprake, hoe graag ik dat ook zou willen, dus is het kubisme zeker geen kandidaat, al is er wel wat te zeggen over het achterbakse. Als geboortestad van Mondriaan, viert Amersfoort 100 jaar De Stijl. Het vereenvoudigen kan ik zien als het tot de essentie komen van reuma. Elk vlak en elke kleur vertegenwoordigen een ander aspect van mijn reuma zoals, pijn, stijfheid en vermoeidheid, terwijl de ware betekenis van het kunstwerk een veel diepere laag heeft. Het postimpressionisme Van Gogh raakt me het meest. De chaos van de klodders verf op het doek, onbegrepen in zijn tijd, maar het vermogen om mensen op een afstand diep te raken. Zijn werken inspireren mij het meest, terwijl het vervormen van objecten door Picasso echter een betere metafoor voor mijn leven met reuma is. Abstracte kunst in zijn algemeenheid past beter; reuma is een ziekte die door velen niet begrepen wordt. Het leven met reuma is een kunstvorm op zich. Ferhaan Kajee