It's Getting Heavy
Living in the wealthiest country on Earth, it’s easy to take things for granted. I turn a faucet, and clean running water instantly pours out. I adjust the thermostat and immediately cool air fills a stuffy room or warm air combats a frigid one. When I’m hungry I simply go to the refrigerator or the grocery store or a restaurant, never needing to travel far to fill my belly. Anytime I stop to think about any of these modern minor miracles, I feel incredibly grateful to be living in such abundance, yet I don’t always take the time to take stock and feel grateful.
While I often take my creature comforts for granted, living with rheumatoid arthritis reminds me of physical sensations I can also forget to be grateful for, like feeling energized, pain-free, and able to withstand pressure against my body. During my latest flare, I’ve been reflecting about that last sensation, about how RA can make the physical world feel very heavy indeed. While being a young person with a chronic illness can feel heavy on my heart, RA makes the physical world literally feel dense and weighty.
For example, when I’m in a flare the weight of covers on my body at night can feel more like the weight of a thick x-ray vest rather than a lightweight comforter. The pressure of a blanket against inflamed joints can increase my pain to a level that makes it impossible to sleep. Instead of having the covers on, I adjust the thermostat to a comfortable temperature or use a space heater in my bedroom during the winter to avoid an enormous heating bill.
Similarly, lightweight items that I don’t think twice about carrying when my joints are doing well become incredibly heavy when I’m in a flare. For instance, the weight of my purse seems to multiply when my joints hurt. Since developing RA I only opt for small pocketbooks, knowing that a larger bag would be hard on my shoulder, hips and knees. However, during a flare even my minimalist, small bag feels like I’m toting lead instead of a wallet, phone, and lipstick.
The same goes for clothing. In the winter, wool sweaters and coats can feel like they are pressing down against my inflamed joints. I opt for layers of lighter material instead. There are times when I try on clothing in a dressing room or borrow a sweater or coat from my husband, and I’m immediately shocked at how sensitive my body is to the simple weight of an item of clothing.
My house is also filled with small items that take on mammoth proportions because of RA. For instance, I can’t put my laptop on top of my lap if I’m in a flare. The weight of even a lightweight Chromebook is too heavy for my hips, not to mention my heavier duty laptop computer. I often want to use a computer when I’m in a flare, as it’s difficult to feel productive from a prone position, so I prop the laptop on a pillow on my belly. It makes for awkward typing, but I’ll take that inconvenience over an increase in pain. Books also become very heavy in swollen hands. I always prop books, even the thinnest novellas, against pillows so that I’m not holding their full weight. There have been times when I have to put off reading epic tales or hardbacks because they are simply too heavy for my hands to hold upright, even with the pillow doing the bulk of the “heavy lifting.”
By far the thing that weighs most on my heart when weighing on my body is having to keep my children at an arm’s length when they want to cuddle or sit on my lap. When I’m feeling well, there’s nothing I enjoy more than snuggling with my sweet son and daughter. However, in a flare even one of their little heads resting on my shoulder can be excruciating. They’ve learned that when “Mommy’s bones hurt” I don’t want to be touched, but that doesn’t stop them from wanting to be held or sit on my lap. Blowing kisses and holding hands are consolation prizes that pale in comparison to snuggling.
Living with a chronic health condition can feel heavy in so many ways, but when the disease is RA, it can make the world literally feel weighty.
Do you experience increased sensitivity to pressure and weight when you’re in a flare? What items become heavier for you?
When was your last flare?