Ignoring Symptoms as Denial

This is a topic that I'm intimately familiar with because it's part of the reason why it took me forever to seek help for my rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Even when I knew something was wrong with my body, I did not seek out help because I did not want what was happening to my body to be real. To name it, to talk about it would send it out into the world and make it real. And, that's not something I was ready to deal with at the time I was diagnosed in October 2018.

Denial of RA symptoms

I remember the months before I was officially diagnosed as particularly dreadful. I would wake up in the mornings unable to move my feet. I had to shuffle across the room to get to the bathroom. Even while in the bathroom, RA was unrelenting: I couldn't even lift my arms and shoulders above my head to wash my back.

Once dressed for the day, most of the tasks that I had — as an English major, this included all the things that affected my hand joints: writing, typing — were inhibited. Walking was difficult at times, requiring me to rest often and make sure I was taking care of my body the best that I could, often requiring me to relinquish activities and tasks that I had previously done in the name of RA.

I didn't want to live my life this way

There was, however, one specific moment that shook me to taking action on my rheumatoid arthritis. One morning in September 2018, I woke up unable to close my hands on my comforter to pull it over me since it was cold that morning. That moment of realizing that I couldn't move my hands for over an hour forced me to reckon with the truth: something was wrong with me and now I had to take action to get better.

Laying in bed and staring at my hands, I thought to myself, "This is not how I thought or wanted my life to be." This was not a sustainable life and not one that I would sustain any longer.

Yet, I was reluctant to get help because I didn't want to acknowledge that something was wrong with my body, even when acknowledging that something was wrong would be the path to stop living this unsustainable life.

Scared to admit something was wrong

In looking back on this time, I realize that I was scared to admit that something was wrong with my body. I didn’t want something to be wrong.

I wanted everything to be perfect and beautiful and stunning and for life to be filled with such a sense of beauty. At the time, it felt like RA was going to destroy that. With an RA diagnosis on the horizon, it seemed like my life was going to take a turn for the worse - a time of being depressed, being misunderstood, and being profoundly alone.

A new sense of meaning

But what I have found now is that RA has given me a new sense of meaning in life, although it may not have been the life that I really wanted. It's made me slow down and appreciate life at a slower pace which is something I'm not remotely skilled in because I've been anxious and productivity-bent my whole life.

While I'm still processing my RA diagnosis (and I think I always will), I'm definitely doing a lot better with it than before.

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