Thankful for Aging

As Thanksgiving approaches, I want to reflect on an unusual part of life for which I am thankful: aging.

Many people dread aging

They fear their mortality. They hate the changes that aging may bring in health and physical abilities. Everyone makes jokes about how aging isn’t easy. In fact, no one gets out alive! (Har har!) But I have a very different view on aging. I am grateful for it.

When I was a teenager with rheumatoid arthritis, I wondered how much I would be able to age. I looked forward to becoming an adult and having independence and adventures. But I was also aware of studies that reported early mortality for people with RA due to inflammation-related diseases (like heart disease) and complications from living with a serious chronic condition for a long time. It seemed that people like me with the disease from a young age, may face an early death. I have not known what to expect as I aged and always had a sense of fighting invisible odds.

But I want to age

So as much as I have worked to maintain my RA as best I could and take care of my health (including all those pesky side conditions that can throw a wrench into things), I also did it because I wanted to age. Throughout my life, I have been striving for longevity. In looking at my health it wasn’t just about the present, but about the long game.

In my 20s I was busy finding my career and going to graduate school. In my 30s I was more focused on advancing in my chosen career field and building a life, like meeting my husband and creating a home together.

Now in my early 40s, I am thrilled to be reaching what are typically the middle years. It feels like an accomplishment to get this far! I have had complications and unexpected health issues, but relatively speaking I am pretty well for a person who has had RA about 40 years.

I've built a happy life

I also realize that I’ve built a life that has me pretty happy! It seems like a good time to enjoy what I’ve sown and feel thankful that I have come this far.

As a young person I never got to enjoy the fantastic feeling of youth—of being able-bodied, strong, well-rested, and so forth. I suppose I have these things relative to my health now, but I always remember having RA and limitations because of it. I’ve never had a well day, except in comparison to worse days with RA. So, in some ways, I have some immunity from the fears of aging because I’ve always felt awful! Ha!

While I know that I gradually lose abilities as my RA progresses, I don’t fear severe joint problems and pain because I already live with these issues. I know I have an expiration date and want it to be far (far) into the future, but it is something that I have accepted as part of the natural order.

So, while a lot of people may cringe as their birthday approaches or fudge their age when asked, I am always a little proud and happy when the year ticks by and I have achieved a new age. Every year brings me more to be thankful for—time with my husband, family, and friends.

To age with a chronic disease is an achievement. I offer us all applause and accolades for living with RA and aging well. It’s hard work so we deserve a little credit! But it’s also something to appreciate and be thankful for—that we are survivors and thrivers despite the challenges we experience.

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