Everyone deals with some kind of internal struggle. It’s just a part of being alive. We all walk through life without dealing with some kind of pain that the rest of the world doesn’t automatically see. For me, it’s Rheumatoid Arthritis.
I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at twenty-five-years-old. Rheumatoid Arthritis, or RA, is an autoimmune disease where your immune system decides to attack your joints. This causes fatigue, pain, swelling, and erosion of the joints effected and there is no cure. There is only slowing the progress of the disease and managing the symptoms.
After shoveling snow one night and enjoying a rewarding glass of wine, to celebrate my hard work, my hands suddenly felt like they were on fire. They were red and inflamed, like painful vienna sausages, and the pain wouldn’t go away. Looking back, there were other triggers that probably helped bring about my symptoms. I was stressed, not sleeping well, and the weather had dropped 40 degrees in one night. But the pain that followed was excruciating. I couldn’t sleep, which made it worse. I couldn’t hold the steering wheel or pick up my toddler daughter. And I had no idea what the fuck was going on.
When the doctor first confirmed my diagnosis of RA, I was momentarily and microscopically pleased that there was a reason for this new pain. I wasn’t just being over dramatic, like my primary doctor had insinuated. But there is no cure for this chronic disease. And on top of that, my own idiotic body was attacking itself, creating this pain. What a fucking betrayal, having my own body sabotage itself like that.
And aside from the betrayal, the RA constantly chipped away at my beloved independence, and affected the way I liked to live my life. I couldn’t drive long distances any more, because of the pain in my hands. I had to learn to ask for help, because I physically couldn’t do everything on my own anymore. Even simple tasks I used to be able to just do on a whim, needed to be reevaluated. Like bringing in heavy groceries, going to the trampoline park with my daughter, or really anything that might be too high impact or involve anything heavier than 20lbs. And let’s not forget about the necessity of all those super cute braces and compression gloves/sleeves that I needed to keep the pain in check.
I also had to learn to avoid any triggers for my RA flare ups. And they were super annoying to discover since I had to figure them out by trial and error. If I got too little sleep, that could cause a flare up. I learned that if I drank certain alcohol, that would affect my pain. If I worked out too hard, I usually would get a flare up. If I ate too much bread or sugar. And like today, if the weather changes too abruptly, or it’s too cold or humid outside.
It’s been a few years, and I still have my good days and then the bad days. Summers are great for me, since my symptoms are usually nonexistent. But on days like today, when the temperature drops thirty degrees less than twenty-four hours, and the pain that has been absent comes back to visit, I get frustrated. I can’t help but wonder why, or wish it would go the fuck away.
I’m not going to end this post on some falsely chipper note, or act like there is some awesome benefit to living with chronic pain. Its annoying. But like many hardships in life, it has forced me to grow and learn. Especially learn to not let a little something like RA inhibit or define my life.