On Confronting Your Illness

The diagnosis of a degenerative illness puts the world into perspective. It brings an immediacy to one's mortality that few things can. When you feel your own fragility deep in your bones day after day, you know something is amiss, and you can’t ignore it. You can never go back to how things were. Rather, you push forward and try to carve something meaningful out of what you have left.

The fear of RA progression

This fear knocks at the door daily. It is there when you wake up in the morning and when you lay your tired body back down at night. When you look at your hands, you are reminded that this is here to stay, that things are going to get worse as time marches on. If you are like me, you are willing to do just about anything to get this disease to go away. It’s not just the pain, it’s the knowledge that you are losing your physical ability from the inside out. This is a gnawing thought. It is always there reminding you.

How can I enjoy life with the worry of RA progression?

How do we enjoy life and try to make something out of it, while at the same time know that we can lose everything we are working towards?  I've certainly wondered this many times. In fact, I'd say its a philosophical struggle of chronic illness that is often forgotten in the day to day hustle.

Ancient wisdom, everyday application

I wear a pendant around my neck with a phrase from the Stoics of Ancient Greece and Rome, “Memento Mori,” which means to “remember that you will die.” It reminds me to live and to keep in my mind focused on the things that matter.

As one of the most famous stoics and Emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius put it, “It is not death that man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”

Confronting RA progression

I find that by pondering my inevitable decline, I become less afraid of it. By fearing that decline, however, I become trapped by it. It is the fear that binds, not the fact that binds. Of course, there is a lot to fear with this illness. I find, however, it is best to address those fears.

Confronting reality helps address my fears

For instance, when I truly embrace the fact that my body is slowly failing me, I work all the harder to do the things that will improve my disease and my health.

When I think about my failing body, I also think about my children and their future. I become even more motivated to be the best parent I can be.

How this has helped my health & well-being

I originally thought I could keep competing in the sports I love. However, three years after my diagnosis, competition stopped bringing fulfillment. My illness was exhausting me. I was pushing myself too hard. I could keep it up sure, but for what purpose? To make myself sicker? I confronted the fact that my body is no longer what it used to be and retired. It was hard to do so, however, that was the best decision I could make. I am now healthier because of it. Only when I truly looked at what I feared was happening to me, was I able to see clearly and make the right decision.

The fear of what this illness can do may never go away. However, I know at least for me, the best thing I can do is face it head-on.

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