Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Opportunity in Illness

  • July 2010: miscarriage
  • Fall 2010: pain, loss of mobility
  • January 2011: dual RA/AS diagnosis
  •  February 2011: cane
  • April 2011: mentor's death 
  • May 2011: loss of a friend
      This was my timeline of pain at the onset of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Misery doesn't cut such shallow lines of course, it sculpts cavernous ruins. Navigating the crevasse with only a sense of where you slid down makes coping with chronic illness an extreme sport.

It's a natural human reaction to ruminate on loss. Loss after loss  in my 30th year spawned an intoxicating  odyssey of negativity. I spent  days, months, and over a year wallowing in pitch black. There were paths my feet would never see again.

 It was juvenile and Pollyannaish to look for happy moments as I brooded from my couch each day. Alienation cut me off from sources of viable assistance; communication with friends and family, successful fellow RA'ers, and life beyond the illness.

 RA happened to me. How could I fight back when I was perpetually pinned down?  It was a moment by moment struggle to reframe my focus. As little happy moments  popped up day to day, I noted them and let them go, regardless of how miniscule. The fat chattering squirrel outside. The ice blue delphinium in the garden.  I did the same with the monsters. I will never dance again. I'll never hold a baby in my weak arms. Time ticked away those moments, and they gradually lost their identity, becoming a shapeless mass of thought. Through tears my state became changeable, dynamic. I wasn't the passive loser in the genetic lottery as I'd originally thought. I could still experience good with the bad. All those thoughts were that, simply thoughts.

Months passed as I clawed my way out from the dark, and I knew I would never be the same woman I was pre-diagnosis. It was unrealistic to expect that I would be. But I had an opportunity in this illness for change. To better myself, to form meaningful connections with other human beings instead of remaining adrift in cold misery.

Life is brutal, it is beautiful. Recognize both.  Aim to hold the good and glorious as much as you may dwell on what's wrong. Move outside your timeline of pain. It's up to you how you get there as we each travel our own path in this life. By embracing the positive you open yourself to opportunity beyond the illness.


  1. Wow, powerful post! I am on the journey too. In March I climbed out of the darkness. For me it was exercise, no matter how much it hurt.

  2. Good news Joan! Exercising can be tough; what works some days won't on others. It can be difficult to judge what is safe for your joints. My rheumy's rule of thumb: if it hurts, stop.
    Here's hoping your journey is filled with light!


  3. A good and informative post indeed, Thank you for sharing this information. Hope you can also post something about joint health next time. I am really looking forward to that.