"Oh goody, you have more unsolicited advice for me? Great. I'm going to go crawl under this rock over here."
"Another book, website? Awesome, I love being terrified. I'll just lose that sticky note. Now please excuse me while I go back to my hidey hole."
There are amazing resources on rheumatoid arthritis and and ankylosing spondylitis; but only when you're ready for them.
Pain be damned, I set about to do my usual schedule. I gathered a pile of laundry and stared down the basement stairs. Not happening. I had craft supplies to move to my storage room, upstairs. Nope. I couldn't stand unsupported long enough to vacuum. Couldn't reach my arms over my head to wash windows. Trudging through knee deep snow I attempted to fill the bird feeders. I couldn't carry a simple 20 pound bag of feed, and I used to be a solid little bench presser. I couldn't navigate the snow piles without a cane because my knees felt like they were threaded by spaghetti. It took me 35 minutes to feed the critters, I came in and collapsed on my bed crying and in pain.
I only ever wanted a family. Now I couldn't take care of myself. I couldn't get off the toilet on my own, hook my bra, put on t-shirts or socks. And forget zippers and buttons. I couldn't even hold a hairfuckingdryer. I was a wreck, the house was a mess. We were perfect reflections of one another: tattered, ratty, ruined. My podiatrist had been correct. This was serious stuff. Never mind who I thought I was, what I enjoyed, my youth or former mobility. Rheumatoid arthritis just doesn't care. I was trying to swallow this giant bitter horse pill of truth when something happened that made my eyes and ears perk up.
It was my husband's fault. He convinced me to leave the house to join a colleague for lunch. He had been mentioning this guy for months, and I could never summon up the proper enthusiasm to get over my embarrassment at meeting someone who might judge me. RA doesn't do nice things to your body, and Prednisone is its poison pal. I was now a fatigued, chubby, former beauty with a bow-legged gimp. House can rock the cane, I just look like an idiot. Oh, and Mr. Sunshine is almost 7 years younger than I am. Needless to say, I wasn't feeling too high on myself.
I was grouchy, welding my cane like a weapon, and feeling a lot like the Michelin Man when we arrived. The guy was a little late, and I was absolutely fine with that. Maybe he wouldn't come at all? Just as I was slurping the remnants of my yummy milkshake, in walks Mr. Sunshine's friend. He looked like a comfortably worn-out shirt. Not in a wasted sense, just a perennial favorite. My unease began to melt a little. He had some weird quirks, but was smart and interesting. He shared some defining moments from his life as someone who had been through the lowest of human lows you can imagine, many of them self-inflicted. Some just unlucky. He had survived , and what appeared to be for the better. A little light flickered back to life in me, and for the first time in months I was glad I met someone new.
Our next lunch we invited a few friends and laughed for hours. After weeks of avoiding public, not seeing or talking to friends, I felt a reawakening of joy through human connection. My hole started seeming a little lonely, dark, smelly. T-shirt Guy and I struck up a friendship that was a perfect ladder out of my pit. Starbucks was the place, sometimes lunch or errands at Sam's Club. He listened to me when I was deciding whether to do Humira injections or not. He wasn't put out when I cried at lunch over my music teacher's death. He just let me be. Once he even went out of his way to pick up steroids for me when my back had given out. I admired his commitment to becoming a better human being, he was my confidante and sounding board. He knew pain, he understood I was coming from a dark place, he was there to secure that ladder for me.
As the months went on, my pain jumped from joint to joint; the disease seemed less focused on my knees. I didn't need a cane as much, except for longer periods of time at work. I began to feel a searing burn in my hips and spine. The body is truly amazing in the way it expresses itself. Despite the new pain, I began seeing friends again, staying busy, drinking a lot of coffee. I was happy. I could live up to my nickname again.
In May's infancy the fourth loss reared its ugly head. My ladder broke. T-Shirt Guy broke plans with me, quit calling, and stopped texting. It was pretty obvious what he was doing, going from 100 text messages a day to nothing. I gave him space, didn't chase him down, and held out hope that something had happened and everything would be OK.
It wasn't. I never saw him alone again. I was very well aware there were things in life bigger than us, than our friendship. I was fine with that. And it wasn't so much what he did, as how he did it. I was almost to the top of that ladder, and he just let me go without a word. If he had only sat me down or called, and said he couldn't be friends anymore. I would have been sad; but I would have been OK with it. I wouldn't look back over the friendship and question my role, his words, our actions.
I was damn vulnerable and naive when I met T-shirt Guy. That may have been the unraveling of the ladder's thread. I put this man on a pedestal because of what he had overcome in his life. I spent a great deal of time just listening to his stories. Maybe I should have talked more and listened less. Treated him like a man and a human being, not a self-actualized hero come to rescue me from the abyss.
I don't know if that's what it was. I don't know if I could have behaved in any other way at that point though. I just wasn't well enough. Denial is not a pretty thing, if I'd only had the courage to face my own issues, pull myself up that slippery slope on my own, I might still have a friend. A few weeks after he bailed on me, I sent him a text message asking what had happened. I waited three days for a response. He finally apologized for not contacting me sooner and for being wrapped up in his own selfishness. And it contained that feared vague, but decisive gesture of dismissiveness.
That was it. I deleted his number off my phone, unfriended him on Facebook. By this point I knew our friendship was null. Had he really ever been my friend? Well, that didn't matter now. Alone, I was left to tend to the pieces of my pulpy devoured heart. The floodgates opened for me, all those losses over the last 8 months, everything slammed me in a Tsunami of emotion. There goes that river, denial.
It would be nice to say that it is July, two months later, and I'm feeling great. But that isn't true. That's what brought me to this point. I have had some incredibly joyful moments since letting go. But it took me a long time to get there. My heart was broken. I'm still climbing out of that damn hole. I've seen T-Shirt Guy at lunch a few times with my husband, and he's still attentive and funny; but we've never had a conversation about what happened. I only wish he understood that I felt so disrespected by his choice. I would have thought better on our entire friendship if he'd just been honest. Perhaps I was mislead, and it wasn't a friendship on his end at all? What I've realized in this unexpected journey, that you cannot control life. At least now I am looking up.