Six years ago, Seamus Mullen, award-winning chef and owner of the restaurant Tertulia, was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, a lifelong autoimmune disease that causes chronic pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. But he hasn’t stopped cooking.

Mullen recently partnered with the Rethink RA Campaign, a Pfizer-sponsored education program that teaches those with rheumatoid arthritis ways to cope.

How has your life changed since being diagnosed?

... I was completely terrified -- would I ever be able to cook again? Would I be able to live a "normal" life? These were the kinds of questions running through my head. Over time, I'd come to accept that I was just going to be in some sort of pain at all times. And when you have moderate to severe RA, simple things in daily life seem insurmountable -- I would dread getting out of bed in the morning ... I think the most difficult challenge was acknowledging to myself that I could no longer do everything. I couldn't be on my feet 12, 14 hours a day; I couldn't get by with just a few hours of sleep; I couldn't eat unhealthy food at sporadic times -- all the things that as a chef, and certainly as an entrepreneur, you feel that you "just have to deal with." ... I've also had to adjust my lifestyle quite a bit, and make some sacrifices that I previously wasn't willing to -- for instance, I've generally given up alcohol entirely. Which is a major bummer to someone in the restaurant industry...

Did you fear your career would be negatively impacted?

Absolutely. .. Being a cook is obviously a very physically demanding job and it was my livelihood -- and it was my staff's livelihood. What was going to happen if one day I couldn't work the grill, or I couldn't hold a knife? At that point in my life, my career was also just starting to gain momentum -- I wasn't established enough, or ready, to step away from the action. I had worked so hard to get to where I was in my career and I didn't want to throw it all away. Somehow, I managed to power through for a few years, juggling a very challenging profession and being very sick. Thankfully, my career did not suffer, but in retrospect, my health certainly did. Finally, about a year ago, maybe more, I said to myself, 'Enough is enough. I really need to take control of my health and work towards feeling better.'

How did you figure out the ways to deal with RA and move forward with cooking?

It's definitely been a multi-pronged approach. One of the challenging aspects of RA, or any autoimmune disease, is that what works for you may not work for me, or vice versa. ... It's a lot of trial and error, to be honest. For me, it's been a combination of educating myself on what foods are vital for my body, educating myself about clinical tests, medical terms and treatment options. More recently, I've finally been able to reintroduce exercise into my routine, which has done wonders for me not only physically, but emotionally, too. I also made a point to open up the lines of communication with my doctor... I think far too often, patients are either too intimidated to ask their doctors their real questions, or too overwhelmed by pain or anxiety ...

Has this encouraged you to be healthier in other areas of life?

Definitely. Ironically, it's taken me a long time to realize that, our health is all we have. A few things have really put things in perspective for me. One, I met my wife about 3 years ago and we got married last year. ... I don't just have myself to think about anymore, I have a partner and we are a team now. ... And we're going to want to start thinking about having a family soon. I want to be able to run around with my kids, play soccer with them, take them camping. The other thing is, I turned 39 this past May ... That was definitely a wake-up call for me too. ... I really wanted to kick my health into high gear and feel as good as I can ... I'm being realistic about what I can and can't do in the kitchen.

What are some tips for dealing with RA, in and outside the kitchen?

There are some really simple, no-brainer things all of us can do in the kitchen to make our lives a little easier. I'm all about simplify, simplify, simplify. If using a food processor cuts my prep time by 20 minutes, that's 20 minutes I'm not putting strain on my hands and wrists. If getting a little step stool means I can easily shift my position every 20 or 30 minutes, that means my joints and muscles aren't stiffening up from being in one position too long. And the easiest thing we can do is ask for help. It's hard, as a chef, to ask for help, believe me. But I'm very fortunate that I have such a great team with me in the kitchen. ...

Check out more tips, as well as some of Mullen's favorite recipes at RethinkRA.com/cooking

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