I don’t like to shop. Unless I have free money to spend, know exactly what I want and where to find it, I’m reluctant to go. Wandering aimlessly around stores just to look at stuff, knowing I can’t afford to buy anything, has always bored me senseless. Even when I’m flush, it frustrates me. Finding clothing that fits nicely on my short, wide-hipped frame is a problem I’ve faced for years. Plus, it seems like each year’s new fashions are exclusive, designed especially for some exotic race of exceptionally tall, slender, and willowy women. I look ridiculous in them.
Once rheumatoid arthritis came into my life shopping got even tougher. Oh, finding clothes didn’t change much. But buying new shoes became a real bugaboo. While there’s no visible deformity in my feet or toes, most “normal” shoes are like torture devices when I slide my foot into them and put my weight down. Off comes the shoe–I don’t even need to walk around in them. The pain is instant, as if I’ve just slipped my foot into a vise that crunches all the bones viciously together.
So, no pretty high-heeled pumps for me. No cute ballerinas or sleek, understated oxfords to wear with slacks. Absolutely no heels over 2 inches–and that’s pushing it. Only the occasional athletic shoe passes muster; the same with sandals. If they don’t pinch and smoosh my forefoot, they lack an arch support (a must) or adequate padding in the sole (another must, since without padding it’s like walking on my bare bones).
But not long ago I had a shopping dream anyway. In it, I went looking for new hands.
Not a huge surprise, considering that my hands ache, swell, and hurt nearly every day. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wished I could just lop them off and get new ones. Doesn’t everyone?
In the dream, I was in a discount shop surrounded by 9-foot shelves lined with pairs of hands. Big hands, little hands, brown hands, white hands, hands of all colors and shades and shapes and sizes. Long nails, short nails, painted or plain. Hands with stubby fingers, and hands with long, delicate, strong fingers that looked perfect for piano playing or performing surgery. The variety was breathtaking.
I’d find a new pair I liked and carefully work them on over my old fingers and hands like a tight pair of gloves. (It made perfect sense in the dream, of course.) Once they were on, I admired how they looked on me. And then I curled my fingers.
As in my years of experience with shoe-shopping with rheumatoid disease, I knew instantly that these hands weren’t going to work for me. Sometimes the pain was mild. I could probably live with it for a while, but in the long run, I’d grow to hate them as much as I hated my original achy, tender, twinge-y pair. So I’d sigh and take them off, put them back on the shelf, and continue my search.
Often, the fit was too large or too small, to wide or too narrow. The one thing that linked them all, though, was the fact that curling my fingers caused instantaneous pain. I became frustrated, then angry, slapping the offending pair of hands back onto the shelf and grabbing another pair. And so it went until I woke up.
It was 3 a.m., that time in the wee hours when my bladder wakes me for a sleep-walk to the loo. I pushed the covers off and sat up, swinging my legs over the side of the bed. The dream was still so vivid in my mind that I held my hands out in front of me in the darkened room, trying to see if I was wearing a pair from the store.
Well, of course not. It was a dream, wasn’t it? But my hands were throbbing as painfully as if I really had been pulling glove-like things over them, tugging and pulling and straining at them to make them fit. Bemused, I got up and shuffled off to the bathroom, telling myself to remember the dream and try to write about it soon.
I’m telling you about it now to illustrate how profoundly RD affects us. Not only do we live and cope with physically painful hands, feet, and other joints during the day, when they have an inarguable effect on our lives and the things we do; that same pain and disability revisits us mentally, in our dreams. We don’t ask for this, and we don’t cultivate it. People who imply that those of us with RD obsess over our illness and catastrophize our lives with it are simply wrong. In fact, I’d challenge them to live with RD for a few days or a week. My bet is that it wouldn’t even take that long before they’d be reminded of the disease and how it affected them every time they moved their fingers.
I’d still really like a new pair of hands, but I don’t want to go through the misery of trying on pair after pair like I do when I buy new shoes. I guess these old ones are still good enough: I’m sort of attached to them.
This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.