I have an inherent fascination for words and language which eventually turned into a career in communications. Words can start or end wars. What we know of human history is largely through the written word of past scholars. The things that affect us most every day are communicated through words.
Some phrases immediately come to mind when I think of four words that dramatically change things. There is, of course, “Will you marry me?,” followed conversely by “I want a divorce.” And the words, “We’re having a baby,” certainly rank right up there with life-changing phrases.
As you’re reading this article, however, four words that changed your world were probably, “You have rheumatoid arthritis.”
An RA diagnosis
Even though it’s been almost nine years since I got my diagnosis, I remember very clearly feeling like I’d been sucker punched. It was pretty much a roller coaster of emotions immediately following that. On one hand, I was glad to have a diagnosis so we could figure out a treatment plan. On the other hand, I started doing research and would get horribly depressed about some of the statistics I found. I finally found some balance when I started connecting with others with RA and began understanding that people continue to have real lives even after their diagnosis.
A “new normal” with RA
But the fact is, with rheumatoid arthritis, your “normal” changes and generally changes for the rest of your life. Up until the point we have a diagnosis, we’ve generally been faced with health issues that have a limited duration. Three-day measles last about three days. Colds last about a week. You’ll be on crutches for six weeks with a broken leg. My husband’s immediate recovery from triple bypass heart surgery was about eight weeks. RA, on the other hand, doesn’t ever go away. Some of us achieve remission – more of us all the time as new treatments are discovered. But our “normal” perception that you can “get over” an illness gets altered forever.
Here in Texas we have a saying about the weather: “If you don’t like it, wait an hour and it will change.” In that respect, RA is a lot like Texas weather. You can’t control it and about the time you think you have a handle on things, things change. It wasn’t that long ago that I’d have about a day a week that I couldn’t even get out of bed. I changed treatment plans and now I’m walking multiple miles every day. My “normal” transformed from daily pain and fatigue to feeling human again.
We tend to think in terms of “before” and “after” the diagnosis, creating a division in our life’s timeline. I think there is a certain amount of grief for the “before” normal. While I don’t miss the time leading up to the diagnosis – the seemingly endless doctor’s appointments trying to figure out what’s wrong, there are things I do miss. Like my high heels. Perhaps the heels are a metaphor for a busy career and all those things (including a paycheck) that I don’t have anymore. The reality is, I just truly like beautiful shoes and how wearing them usually meant I got to go somewhere.
For many years, my new “RA normal” didn’t look that different from my old normal. Other than dealing with more doctors, things went on much as they did before my diagnosis. Even today there is lots of the old normal in my life. I still have a busy life. I connect with people, I travel, I enjoy movies and restaurants and good books. I just don’t wear high heels or go to work every day anymore. And many of the people I connect with aren’t CEOs or technical experts, they’re wonderful other bloggers and advocates who also have their own new normal to deal with.
I am an advocate of change. There is no growth without it. However, I just want to go on record that if I had been able to vote on it, I would not have voted to change my life by developing RA. But what I’ve found is that while it’s been a challenging nine years, there have been many blessings as well – blessings I would not have had without those four fateful words.