Woman riding a bike.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Yesterday, I looked 90 years old. I was walking with ace bandages around my knees at a pace that was too slow for my patient parents who are around eighty. Every step felt like a knife through the knee.

I had to wonder if I was torturing myself by insisting on joining them walking in the first place. It was a pretty pitiful picture, and also one that I’m not unused to. From the outside, I’m sure that my plight looks awful, at least on days like yesterday.

From the inside out, however, I know that my plight is temporary. Today, I’m back to being 52.

RA is unpredictable

One of the crazy-making aspects of living with rheumatoid arthritis is just how changeable it is. Minute to minute, hour to hour: you are never fully confident about what’s going to happen next.

I’ve literally watched hives erupt all over my body in real-time, horrified and fascinated at the same time. I joke my body is a walking science experiment, and it’s true! I’ve gone to sleep with knobby knees and woken up with grapefruit knees too many times to count, and vice-versa.

A different reaction

For me though, this changeability equals hope. I use this knowledge as a tool when things go dark, RA-wise.

So many times over the five decades that I’ve lived with JRA (juvenile rheumatoid arthritis), I’ve had severe flares that seem like they will never end. Flares that forced me into disability after years of unrelenting disease. Flares that ended up with me requiring multiple surgeries from the joint damage they incurred. Flares that forced me out of significant life events.

All of these things are tragic. But for me, the tragedy is never the situation forced upon you, but the reaction you choose.

Focus on the relief that finally comes

So, I choose to turn the uncertainty of RA on its head. Instead of focusing on the tragedies, I focus on the relief that finally comes.

"This too shall pass" is a favorite mantra of mine because it’s always true. And I also tell myself every day that things can get better just as much as they can get worse. Sometimes you have to be patient for the better part to come. And sometimes, like yesterday, it only takes a day.

Gratitude for being able to ride a bike

Today, I’m going on a bike ride and that ride will feel as sweet as only the best things in life can. I’ll be so, so grateful that I can ride a bike at all because I remember just a few years ago when that seemed like a dismal possibility after tough neck surgery.

I had to adapt my bike and I can’t do the kind of biking I used to. But just being on a bike at all is a precious gift for me. I know that some of my peers are not able to do this anymore, so I think of them as I ride.

Reclaiming my joy from RA

Rheumatoid arthritis is a mind-bending disease and one that can hijack your self-identity and confidence. Knowing this, I consciously try to work with it (instead of against it) and find ways that my circumstance can increase my joy instead of rob it.

This isn’t possible every day; for me yesterday was one of them. But every chance I get, I remind myself that RA is only a part of me, and all of the other parts can help to reverse the damage that RA brings.

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