I tossed and turned, my left hand cradling my right wrist, holding it against my chest and then my side. Yet no relief from the throbbing pain could be found. Interspersed between the cringing and the gasping, I flopped about in awkward positions on the bed. The hours of sleeplessness wore on. Eventually, I got up, and wandered around the dark house trying to answer the age-old question of the insomniac: “Is it better to try to sleep, or to occupy myself until the sun rises and the day begins?”
I tried to read, but the sleeplessness and agitation were so great I could not focus. I tried to sleep, but the persistent pain kept me awake. I downed a large dose of Medrol (a similar drug to prednisone) in the hopes of quickly reducing the flare. Yet the time between swallowing the drug and actually experiencing some relief can take hours or more.
Flare-ups in my wrists have been extremely rare compared to my feet, hands, jaw, and shoulders. The intensity of the pain only increased as the night slowly moved on. I was unprepared. In an attempt at resourcefulness, I sat on the floor in a pathetic droop and mind-numbing stupor flailing about with an ace-bandage. Wrapped too tight and my wrist throbbed more, too loose and the support was insufficient to alleviate the pain. Finally, I gave up. “Tomorrow is going to be an ugly day,” I muttered to myself.
Grim nights of foreboding thoughts passed in pain and sleeplessness are the quotidian reality of rheumatoid arthritis. The difficult days that follow only compound the pain and misery spurned by a rogue immune system. If stress makes the inflammation and stiffness worse, sleeplessness throws one into a vicious cycle: everything becomes more difficult, the pain is amplified, and rest becomes an elusive silhouette that one grasps for but can hardly realize. For those who think we are weak, you are wrong — just plain wrong. Who knows these struggles but those of us who pass through them in solitary suffering?
As I awaited the sunrise, I recalled the early onset of my disease. The nights of spontaneous flare-ups would leave me despondent as I wondered what was happening to my life, my health, and my body.
When the first hints of light illuminated the horizon, I got in the car, wincing as I endeavored to get myself into a seatbelt and turn the key. Bleary eyed I drove to the store that was just opening to find a brace that would support my wrist and relieve some of the pain. As I observed all of the people bustling about, hurrying to whatever responsibilities awaited them, I felt myself a forgotten creature in an impervious world — a young man watching his life and everything he knows irrevocably change as he clings desperately to what used to be.
As I struggle through the mundane but demanding tasks of living with RA, I try to maintain my dignity, to keep my head up, and to never admit defeat. Perseverance becomes the only thing that matters. I have grown tired of hearing false notions flung carelessly at those of us with chronic illness, accusing us of lacking willpower. I do not know how such self-gratifying arrogance arises, but it is simply ill-founded. Living with rheumatoid arthritis requires a fervent strength and deep-seated willingness to keep going in the face of pain, loss, and difficulty that cannot be conquered, only continuously survived.
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