For Marianna Paulson, it began as sore toes and fingers the day after playing co-ed hockey in university forty years ago.

Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Marianna has had numerous surgeries to date, including foot and elbow reconstructions, hip replacements, and an operation to fuse vertebrae in her neck. Often feeling frustrated with the challenges she met and upset in the midst of flare-ups, Marianna turned the “why” into a “how” by changing her perspective. “Learning a new way of thinking and feeling, and deciding how you choose to view things and manage your stress makes a difference,” Marianna says.

Marianna experienced the pain, anxiety and stress of living with a chronic illness and dealing with elements of the unknown in her day-to-day life. She decided to explore other ways to help reduce and diffuse the stress she was feeling, and her discoveries inspired her to share them with others.

As a certified teacher, Marianna has had the pleasure of teaching in three provinces, and has enjoyed working with both adults and children. As it became clear to her that managing stress, or “undressing the stress” as she calls it, can have an impact on how arthritis – among other things – can affect us, Marianna realized she wanted to continue to educate with RA as the subject matter. Marianna trained and became a stress transformation coach and educator and now shares time-tested tools and strategies for helping people ‘undress’ their stress and recognize their triggers. Now known as “Auntie Stress” to her clients and friends, Marianna started a website to share her resources and skills for stress reduction. It started her on a very interesting path.

You don’t want to measure your life against your illness or be defined by it – you are more than your illness.”

Subsequently challenged by a friend to start an online blog where she could share stories, tips and daily experiences as someone living with rheumatoid arthritis, Marianna started A Rheumful of Tips with the goal of doing a blog entry every day for a year. The year passed quickly, and with many practical ideas and tips to share, Marianna realized that she could reach past her initial goal of 365 entries.

At first Marianna didn’t believe she would be able to do the blog, but as she says to others, “…rise to the challenge,” as she herself did when her friend first suggested the idea. “When someone believes in you, it can give you strength. You can get so caught up in the illness that it takes centre stage. You don’t want to measure your life against your illness or be defined by it – you are more than your illness.”

A Rheumful of Tips was recognized as one of the best RA blogs in North America. Marianna was also invited (as the only Canadian in attendance) to participate in Pfizer’s first RA Blogger summit in New York City.

Both Auntie Stress and A Rheumful of Tips embrace the theme of self-awareness, which is an imperative part of living with a chronic illness such as RA. “Learning to listen to what you really need, make sure you get rest and develop your awareness…give yourself permission to be good to yourself,” are things that Marianna emphasizes. Taking her own advice, Marianna recently made the decision to space out her posts, choosing a less rigorous schedule to offer her tips, techniques and strategies. With the 365 entries now complete, you can still visit A Rheumful of Tips to find out more, as well as Marianna's ongoing blog, auntiestress.com, where you will find Marianna's thoughts as insightful and inspiring as ever.

Prior to Auntie Stress and her desire to help others by sharing her own experiences, Marianna’s life was very different from all the writing and information distribution that has become a significant part of each day. But as she has demonstrated in all facets of her life, she is up to the challenge, and says, “I don’t want to be known as my disease.”

Not even close, Marianna.

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