Man lays snugly on a porch swing that's suspended between two stacks of books as the sun shines down on him.

What's Next? On Graduating College and Having RA

Over the weekend, I graduated from the Florida State University with two bachelor's degrees: one in English Literature and the other in International Affairs. While this was a momentous occasion in my life, this is not where I thought I'd be in my life. I've written previously about how being diagnosed with RA profoundly altered my plan for after graduation: I wanted to obtain my masters in rhetoric and then ultimately my Ph.D.

With RA, however, I've had to take a slower track: I'm currently taking a gap year of working before heading to graduate school, something that I never thought I would do. Accordingly, I want to take this time to reflect on how my diagnosis forced me to slow down, to (perhaps paradoxically) relax, and to listen to my body.

Looking back on what happened

Unsure of a future with RA

When I first realized that I would have to alter my plan for graduate school, I was devastated; I felt certain that the future I had so firmly believed in was ruined. I was scared. I had no idea what the future would look like for me, especially since I now had a debilitating autoimmune condition. When I look back during my time in undergrad, however, I've realized that the amount of time I spent working was not sustainable; I had spent too much time working and not enough time cultivating myself.

Assessing my quality of life

Because of that, my body and my quality of life suffered as the stress began to accrue. There was no time to breathe, no time to love, no time to wonder about this existence. I had pigeon-holed myself into only thinking about what paper was forthcoming or what conference was next. Note that I'm not saying I developed RA because of the stress of undergrad; rather, RA helped me realize that my life - at least up to this point-was unsustainable and not a healthy way to live. Moreover, it is uniquely paradoxical that a progressive and debilitating condition like RA could force me to slow down and consider my life in perspective.

Denial and processing RA

My diagnosis added on to the mounting stress I felt during my senior year. Yet as I reflect back on this year, I realize that I have been denying the severity of this condition. To this day, I still haven't accepted that I have RA. I don't take care of my body as I should. While I have the correct medications, my mindset toward taking care of my body is not what it should be.

And sometimes when I think about this diagnosis and what it means for me to exist, I'm reminded that RA is life-changing, that I am not making up how difficult it is to wake up in the morning. That this life is now harder than it used to be, that there will always be a continuous shifting in treating my body. To quote June Jordan, I've now recognized that "I am not wrong; wrong is not my name. My name is my own my own my own."

What I plan to do during this gap year?

Relax and focus on my body

First on my list of things to do during this time is to simply relax. I've just gotten out of four years of intense study and hard work and need the necessary time to recover and process everything that happened during my undergraduate career. Next, I will be putting more focus on my body, nourishing it with wholesome foods by eating better and allowing plenty of time for rest (now that I have the time to do so).

Sharing my experiences with the RA community

Finally, I will utilize this gap year to write myself and my condition into existence, concomitantly giving back to this RA community. It is my hope that my personal experiences, in both just graduating from college and in being young, can be of some help to members of this community at RheumatoidArthritis.net.

What have I learned?

Even though RA has caused me more pain than I've ever experience in my life, it has also taught me the importance of slowing down, of reflecting, of reconsidering; it has taught me that life is inherently flexible, that nothing is ever as certain as we think it is. I want to feel alive again, I want to reconnect with parts of myself that I used to enjoy, I want to have genuine and enriching human experiences.

I think RA and this gap year came into my life to afford me the time to have those experiences. Dealing with this disease is hard enough but now I feel it is my time to begin actually managing this disease and that body I inhabit.

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