Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who had flowing blonde hair, snow white skin with rosy cheeks, and a degenerative autoimmune disease called rheumatoid arthritis. Yeah, that’s not a fairy tale that’s likely to hit the shelves or be tackled by Disney’s animation team any time soon. Yet, I have many RA moments that do bring fairy tales to mind.

For instance, my RA frequently makes me think of Cinderella. No, I don’t have a fairy godmother, I don’t have to sleep by the fireplace (thank goodness, because I have a hard enough time sleeping as it is), and I don’t have singing animal friends. Aside from sometimes feeling as if I’m the only one doing any chores while picking up after my family, it’s not Cinderella I can relate to. Rather, it’s her wicked stepsisters. When Cinderella’s fairy godmother dons her with glass slippers, she’s delighted. (If I were in the same situation, I’d be asking, “Does it come in a flat?”) Cinderella goes to the ball and dances all night with her handsome prince, and when midnight strikes, she runs away from the castle in those glass slippers. (I’d be proud of myself if I could dance more than one song in heels, let alone run in them.) When the prince is searching for her, all the ladies in the land try on the glass slipper in hopes of marrying into royalty, and Cinderella’s stepsisters try to squish their feet into the dainty shoe. This is where I come in. The discomfort the stepsister experiences trying to jam the glass slipper onto her foot is what I feel when I try to wear heels or pointy-toed shoes. If the prince’s footman had me try on the slipper, there would be no way my swollen toes and pronounced bunion would fit. You won’t find me dancing the night away in a low wedge pump, much less in a high heel made out of glass, with nary a metatarsal pad nor heel cushion in site. Cinderella wished for her dream man; I wish for my dream shoe. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish for shoes I could wear the entire day without feeling discomfort. If a fairy godmother came to my aid and presented me with glass slippers, I don’t know if I would laugh or cry.

While Cinderella and I may not have much in common, I totally get Goldilocks. Of course I don’t condone breaking and entering the homes of strangers, but I can relate when it comes to trying out every chair and every mattress in search of the one that’s “just right.” Ergonomics are always a factor when I shop, and whether I’m looking for a mattress, a couch or recliner, a stroller, or a car, I try out model after model until I’m confident I’ve found the one that will provide my body the greatest comfort. Goldilocks always seemed picky and self-entitled, but maybe she just had RA.

Speaking of searching for comfort, here’s another fairy tale I can relate to: The Princess and the Pea. As a child I thought it impossible that a person could lie on so many mattresses and pillows and yet feel the discomfort of that tiny little pea. Yet as an adult there are many nights when I am snuggled into my king sized bed, surrounded by pillows, and yet I can’t get comfortable enough to fall asleep. Unfortunately, unlike the pea, the source of my discomfort isn’t easily removed, and my insomnia doesn’t land me a royal title.

Nights like those leave me feeling a little envious of Sleeping Beauty. Naturally the idea of a strange man kissing me while I’m unconscious is totally creepy, but before he shows up Sleeping Beauty is getting the best rest of her life. Between the fatigue of RA, the trouble I have falling asleep, and my busy schedule, it is rare that I wake up feeling rested, and it’s common that I still feel exhausted while drinking a third cup of coffee. While Sleeping Beauty is in her coma the castle is crumbling and becoming overgrown, but she isn’t aware of it. Some days I sit on my couch looking around my messy house, feeling too achy and tired to summon up the energy to get up and clean. I’m awake, yet I feel unable to fight against the toys taking over the floor and the dishes spilling over from the sink onto the counter. Of course I wouldn’t want to sleep for a century, but in moments like that a brief coma almost seems kind of nice.

In my happily ever after, I haven’t married a prince. Rather, I have been cured of rheumatoid arthritis, and can go about my days without the pain, discomfort and fatigue of this disease that can feel like a curse placed on me by a wicked stepmother. Living life without a chronic illness is my idea of a happy ending.

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