Finding the Beauty in Bruises
Most definitions of rheumatoid arthritis explain that RA is a chronic disease characterized by joint inflammation, pain, stiffness, and swelling. All of these things have certainly been true of my experience with RA. But the complete impact of RA on my life has been so much more than that. Whether it’s the emotional impact of living with a chronic condition, or the need to reduce my social commitments, or the limitations RA places on me as a mother, RA affects my life in a thousand little ways that I never realized when I read that definition for the first time.
For example, the other day I got out of the shower and was shocked to see myself in the full-length mirror. My body is currently completely covered in bruises. There’s a bruise on my right forearm the size of my hand. There’s one in the middle of my left palm that is almost invisible except for how much it hurts. And my legs. Oh my goodness my legs. My legs have so many bruises that I basically look like a Dalmatian.
Although not a direct symptom, these bruises are definately a result of my RA. I have always bruised fairly easily and these days there is almost always a two-year-old crawling all over my lap or clinging to my legs. As part of my current RA treatment plan I have been taking a daily dose of prednisone for about five months now, and my doctor confirmed that the prednisone is the likely cause of this new level of crazy bruising.
So the other day as I stood there, looking at my bruised self in the mirror, my first reaction was to be completely disgusted. I tried to count all the bruises that I could see and there were at least 39 on my legs alone. (I wasn’t kidding when I said I look like a Dalmatian!) The challenges of losing baby weight with RA and the moon face from the prednisone have already taken a toll on my self-esteem. Seeing all those bruises certainly did not help me feel any better about myself.
Because I find it helps me cope to always try to stay optimistic and keep looking forward, I tried to think of something potentially positive that I could learn from the situation. At first the only thing I could come up with was this: at least it’s wintertime and I am wearing long pants and long sleeves so no one will have to see all these disgusting bruises. At least it’s not swimsuit season.
But, after a little more thought, I started to ask myself why I was so glad no one would see the bruises. What, exactly, do I have to be ashamed of? It’s the invisible aspect of life with RA that often frustrates me the most. So what if, instead of hiding under long sleeves, I put on my swimsuit anyways and wear these bruises like a badge of honor? Because these bruises, while certainly not pretty, are very visual representation of the battle I am fighting for my health every single day.
You know you have RA when [select all that apply in your experience]: