“Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.” —John Wayne
I have been scared so many times during my life with rheumatoid arthritis. As a teenager, I was afraid of my knee and hip replacement surgeries—would I recover? I was afraid to relearn how to walk—would I fall and be able to get back up? I was afraid of the progression of my disease—would I be able to live the life I wanted to live despite my illness and disabilities?
Living with RA means grappling with countless fears. It starts with the fear of finding a diagnosis and understanding how the disease is affecting your health. It continues with fears about finding treatments that work and worrying that you may never feel better. Then when you (hopefully) do feel better, you fear the day you may have a flare or feel worse again.
In many ways, RA is a fear disease and not just a chronic illness. It upends your life and requires you to adjust in ways that you could not have imagined. It means soldiering on, even when you don’t feel like it. It means persisting, even when you are unsure of the outcome.
I love this quote from John Wayne because to me it perfectly captures that feeling of fear, of not knowing how to make things better, but needing to believe and find the courage to keep going anyway. It’s not about conquering fear or not having fear. It is about having the courage to persist despite feeling the fear. It is saying: “yes, I have fear, and what’s next?”
There have been times when I couldn’t find my courage, and so I asked to borrow others. Thankfully, they understood and lent me their strength when I needed more. Sometimes we have to find courage in other ways, like looking up to role models, getting support from loved ones, or just putting one foot in front of the other.
Sometimes I have told myself different stories to gather my courage. I tell myself that while I may feel crummy with RA today, tomorrow may be better. Or I say that if I keep working my exercises and treatments, the effort will add up and pay off. I don’t really know these things are true for certain, but they keep me going through my fears. And more often than not, they usually become true.
Building a worthwhile life takes time and effort. It doesn’t happen overnight. And there will be setbacks and mistakes, things that we need to work harder on. Living despite the RA fears is another part of this story. It means finding courage to live with the fears, to not let these fears rule our lives and ruin our joy. I see this as a lifetime journey, but so important for my happiness and well-being.
One of the lessons I love most about courage comes from “The Wizard of Oz,” when Dorothy meets the Cowardly Lion. He is so afraid of everything that his own tail frightens him. But through their journey he discovers that he already had courage, he just needed to be able to tap into it.
It may not always be easy, but I think we are stronger than we know. I think we have more courage than we imagine. Living with RA means grappling with a lot of fears, but every day is also a win because we are using our courage to fight the disease and live a life we enjoy. We are courage warriors and we cannot be stopped. So when you have a bad, fearful day, just remember that you have the courage to march onward.