Yes I Can; No I Can't

Rheumatoid disease always gets in my way.

I know I’m not alone in this; it’s one of the most frequent comments I run across in blogs and other social media platforms. RD’s activity-dampening effect is, perhaps, one of the most aggravating--and sometimes, heartbreaking--characteristics of the disease. It rudely horns into our lives and changes them, often stopping us from doing the things we love to do. Do we like it? Not one little bit.

When I sat down to write this post I was going to talk about all the things I can’t do anymore because of RD. But as I thought about it, I realized that my personal list was rather small. Yes, there are some big things it’s taken from me. I’ll probably never ride a horse again, for instance, and that was something I once loved to do. Chances are I’m not ever going backpacking in the Desolation Wilderness again; and I’ll probably never take a wild ski run down a mountain again, either.

Note that I said “probably” and “chances are.” I can’t help it--I'm a bloody optimist. I want to leave my options open, OK?

But I have to be honest, too. RD makes a lot of physically demanding activities problematic, at best. The fact is that while I’ve skied down some pretty amazing mountainsides in my time--I skied the Alps a few times, back in the day--I was never a skilled or a confident skier. In fact, the heights and speed scared the stuffings out of me. I recall my very last ski run clearly: I did it only after fortifying myself with three hot, bracing cups of Jaegermeister tea beforehand. As it happened, those four spectacular wipeouts I experienced on the way down were nothing. Still--skiing? Never say never, but today I don’t think so.

These days RD affects the things I do in smaller, more mundane ways. My hands are often twingy and tender, which means that I can’t make my bed without muttering soft curses of pain beneath my breath. But I do make the bed, and I’m glad that I can. It’s one of those small, everyday triumphs. Gotcha,rheuma-dragon! I did it in spite of you!

Sometimes I have to ask my 84-year-old mother to open the pickle jar or lift a hot pot off the stove or a casserole out of the oven for me. It embarrasses me, but I try to move on. After all, she doesn’t mind helping me. She says she’s glad I ask for help because it hurts her, sometimes, to watch me struggle. Even after all these years, I'm still learning that it's OK if I can't do everything by myself.

Handwriting, drawing, and painting--even digitally--are often difficult and even occasionally impossible for me because holding a pen, paintbrush, or stylus makes my right hand ache miserably. Both hands ache like that when I drive, too, or do anything, really, that requires a prolonged grip.

Yet I do draw, write grocery lists in a pretty hand, and paint anyway. As a writer, I type prodigiously. I do most of the driving around here, too. I do all these things in spite of my RD by resting my hands when I can, frequently shifting my grip, flexing and easing the joints, and even cussing a blue streak in my head or when I think no one can hear me. It's good to vent, after all. RD hurts my hands, but I’m not ready to let it stop me.

Tasks that require dexterity are frequently a challenge, too. Folding laundry comes to mind. Putting groceries away. Chopping veggies is a double whammy; it requires a prolonged grip and dexterity both! Applying makeup ... anything, really, that hands do can be an issue for me. Sometimes I simply have to stop doing and rest, my hands in my lap and covered in ice packs. Truly: the laundry can wait. Most of the groceries can, too. And instead of chopping fresh veggies, I can eat canned or frozen ones with dinner tonight--it won't kill me. There’s always another option or another way.

I hate standing in one place for very long. My feet are often just as tender and sore as my hands are. I can usually manage walking around, even when I’m forced to hobble and limp, but standing on line is a real challenge; it can become dreadfully painful. Still, I do it because I have to, and that I can has always made me oddly proud of myself. I’m a tough little cookie.

I don't mean to brag. It’s just that when I compare the things I can’t do with the things I can, the cans win every time. And I think that it’s the same for many of us who cope with this difficult disease. Somehow we do manage, even if we’ve had to give up some (or even a lot of) things in favor of others. I can’t ski (well, I think I can’t!), but I can draw and I can write. And I can do stretching exercises. I can’t ride a horse (you know the refrain) but I can enjoy a pretty view, laugh at a funny TV show, and do Tai Chi. I can’t go backpacking (sing it now!) but I can take a 15-minute walk around my neighborhood, at least most days.

My point is that there are always things I can do, things that RD hasn’t taken away from me. Maybe it will, one day, but I’ll worry about that when it comes. In the meantime, I’m going to keep doing as much as I can--and look for more.

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