Movement Can Be Joy

There’s a podcast I’ve been listening to in which the host interviews a guest each week and asks three questions: What do you love? What do you hate? What brings you joy? As I listen to these interviews, I reflect on my own answers to those questions. Depending on the day and on the week, my answers vary. Yet, when it comes to what brings me joy, there is a persistent answer that springs up: movement.

Finding joy in movement

One might be surprised that a person with a painful condition like rheumatoid arthritis/rheumatoid disease (RA/RD) would find joy in movement. Indeed, I’m unable to make any significant movement in complete comfort. Each time I move my body, whether it’s to lift a glass of water, stand up from a chair, or type these words, my movements are infused with discomfort.

Mild discomfort comes as stiffness or achiness. I’ve become so accustomed to this low level discomfort that I have learned to push it to the outskirts of my awareness; I can forget for a time that it’s there. Much like people who live near hog farms don’t spend their days holding their noses the way a visitor might be tempted to, I can ignore mild discomfort and not even be fully aware of it.

In contrast, when I’m in a flare and my movements are no longer simply uncomfortable, but instead are agonizing, it is hard to focus on anything else. I think about whether the glass of water I want is worth the steps I’ll have to take to get it. I avoid standing up from my chair until I absolutely have to. I don’t type many words.

Therefore, I do not take movement for granted.

When I can go for a walk, I am grateful. When I can go on a hike, I am gleeful. I am joyful whenever my body allows me to move through the world with any level of ease. Of course, being human there are times when I’ve had several good days in a row and I cease being consciously grateful for lifting a fork to my mouth without pain or walking across the room without a grimace. Yet, I imagine I’ve spent time feeling grateful for these minor movements far more than the average 40-year-old has.

When it comes to the major movements, the long walks or bike rides or swims, I always spend at least a few moments flooded with gratitude that I can move in this way. When I am able to flow through a series of yoga postures without feeling unstable and in pain, I celebrate the strength of my body. When I can swim laps, I take joy in my body’s ability to propel myself through the water. When I can access beautiful places in nature because my body is doing well enough to hike to them, I not only revel in the miracle of our natural world but also in the miracle of the human body.

Living with RA/RD means a lot of storm clouds for my spirit.

However, there are silver linings that come with the darkness. I doubt I would feel grateful for having a body that works and is mobile if I didn’t have times when my body doesn’t seem to be working correctly and isn’t very mobile. I would accept a cure for this disease without a second’s hesitation, but since that’s not currently an option, finding the silver linings and taking stock of what my body still can do, even if only sometimes, brings me a little bit of peace and occasionally great joy.

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