When the Limitation of Rheumatoid Arthritis Becomes Strength

Living with rheumatoid arthritis is humbling.

Walking through the world, we are reminded of our limitations, especially if we look around and start comparing what we see in the mirror to what we see in the people around us.

For me, this has shaped my behavior and has affected my self-concept in different ways.

A need to fit in and keep up

When I was younger, I was more focused on “keeping up” with the people around me. This led me to some unhealthy behaviors like people-pleasing when I needed to say no for the sake of my body.

I was wearing myself out when I was with other people and then crashing alone to recoup my energy for the next time I felt the need to fit in again.

I couldn't pretend anymore

In my thirties, my body crashed into a flare-up that lasted years, and there was no way I could pretend to keep up with the people around me even if I wanted to.

I had to stop working, and I remember emotionally shutting down, trying not to think about the fact that I was in the prime of my life and my seventy-two-year-old neighbor was carrying the groceries for me into my house.

I told myself that the disease wasn’t going to take everything from me. So every day, I would wrap up my knees and ankles in ace bandages for support and take my dog to the beach so she could run and I could walk as far as possible before resting in the sand.

A change in how I felt about sticking out

I thought I looked pathetic, walking slowly with a stick in my hand, standing in the water to cool off my joints so I could go a little farther as young mothers happily chatted in their cute outfits, passing me by without a glance.

Then one day, a man came over to me. I had seen him walking before, and we would always wave. He politely asked what my issue was and, when I told him, he said that his wife recently had a stroke and refused to leave the house.

Get out in the world and try your best

We talked for a bit, and he said he was going home to tell his wife about this inspirational young woman who walked every day at the beach. He said he thought it would help her to feel okay about walking outside again, something she used to love to do.

That day changed how I felt about sticking out and looking different. It reminded me of the small ways we all change each other’s lives and that, even if you feel less capable, if you get out in the world and try your best, someone is going to notice and will be changed for the better.

Strength in limitations

I was reminded of this again recently, just when I needed it. I broke my hip a few months ago, and it is really affecting me emotionally.

I’m 52 and have an osteoporotic fracture that has put me back physically in a big way, just when I was hoping that the new medicine I’m taking will help even out the disease.

I’ve been walking the neighborhood with my walker every day, as my friends tell me about their camping and hiking adventures. It’s humbling and makes me wonder just how limiting my life will become. 

Yesterday, I was walking when a man stopped me. He said he and his wife have been seeing my dedication to getting out. "We see you like clockwork every morning, and it has inspired us to get out and walk too," he said.

It was nice to be reminded that even if my life becomes more limiting, I still can help people see that even in limitations, there can be strength. Maybe keeping up isn’t so important after all.

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