It Is Not Too Late
YOU ARE NOT TOO OLD AND IT IS NOT TOO LATE!
These words of encouragement and empowerment are part of a meme that seems to be going around on Instagram right now. The meme is a photo of one of those billboard-type signs (often in front of churches) with this message displayed upon it. I’m not sure where it originated from, and I don’t know if it’s real or photoshopped, but I really like it. I like the message because it’s one that I often need to hear. Regularly. If there are two things that RA is great at doing, they’re this: 1. stealing my youth, and 2. stealing my time.
You are not too old
Getting diagnosed with RA when I was just 18 years old, I remember thinking that I often felt more like an 80 year-old than a teenager. I moved slowly, I limped, I had to put my feet up all the time, and the only shoes I wore were orthopedic ones that were styles typically suited for older ladies rather than a young girl. Heels of any size or height were forever out of the question. Stiffly dragging myself around wearing loose clothes and clunky nurse-like shoes, I probably looked like I belonged at the retirement home rather than on a college campus.
Do I feel like RA prematurely aged me?
Yes, in some ways. I think the pain zapped so much of my energy and mobility during my college and young adult years, the time of my life when I was supposed to be in my “prime,” that I wasn’t able to live a youthful and active life. My early 20s consisted of me barely able to get through a full-time college schedule because my pain was so bad. Holding a pen to take notes or typing on a computer was agony because of the swollen, stabbing pain in my fingers and wrists. Instead of running around with my fellow college students, I was at home lying on the couch most nights.
Years later, I’m still relatively “young,” I suppose, yet I often feel that I’ve already lived a lifetime. A lifetime of sickness and pain and never-ending medical appointments. Yet somehow, time has zoomed by! How is it possible that I’ve had RA for 21 years? I can’t believe it when I stop to think about it.
Also when I stop to think about having RA for two decades, I’m sadly reminded of all of the things that didn’t work out and that I had to sacrifice due to illness and pain. Years were stolen from me, but there’s really nothing I could do about it. Time marches on with or without pain.
Thankfully society is now a bit more forgiving when it comes to people, women especially, being able to do (just about) anything at any age. There should be no age limits if you ask me. We’re all just a bunch of human beings trying to live and love and work together on this planet. Age or disability shouldn’t get in the way of that, or stop people from being engaged in the world and going after their dreams.
I’m trying hard to not beat myself up with regrets over past decisions/mistakes/failures. Many RA years may have passed now, but in some sense, I will always be young–no matter my scars, prednisone belly, orthopedic braces, limping, or sensible shoes.
It is not too late
One lesson that RA has taught me, and it’s been a difficult one, is that there is no one “right” path to follow in life. Despite pressure and expectations from family, friends, colleagues, and society in general, it’s just not true. RA’s path, in particular, is one that is always full of ups and downs, starts and stops, and twists and turns. It’s bound to take longer than that of a healthy, able-bodied person.
Reminding yourself of this is important, because it’s very easy to get swayed and even brainwashed by society and media messages that you’re not good enough, not productive enough, not successful enough, not smart enough, not thin enough, not young enough, not strong enough, not healthy enough, not rich enough, not attractive enough, not fast enough, and the list goes on.
What we are, though, is this: we are not too late! It’s not too late to try new things or revisit old hobbies or passions. It’s never too late to go back to school or to book a flight to Iceland because you’ve always wanted to go there (ahem, me). It’s not too late to dump your old job that you hate and try your hand at something new and more fulfilling. Or it’s not too late to dump your old boyfriend/girlfriend/partner to try your hand at something new and more fulfilling (ha!). As long as we are breathing on this earth, I believe there’s still time.
It is not too late to live.