A Little Bit of Comfort
When I was younger, everything had to go fast. I liked fast cars, motorcycles, bicycles, snowboarding, you name it. Speed was the name of the game. There was something about it. I could lose myself as the adrenaline increased and I came to rely entirely on instinct and reactions. It felt amazing. I lived for it.
Slowed down by rheumatoid arthritis
As I got older, I still loved it. Speeding down alpine descents on my bicycle, tearing around downhill mountain bike trails, riding motorcycles with friends, and in general just going for it. Then came a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, and my life changed. It wasn’t having kids that slowed me down. Nor was it marriage and the increased responsibilities of life. It was the hard and harsh realization that the risks of accidents at speed just got magnitudes higher. Still, it took a while to learn.
Sport injuries and RA
Even with RA, I was trying to get after it, clinging to an old life and the only way I really knew how to do things. I continued to race my bicycle and continued my acrobatics. But in my mind, I could now hear the words, “This won’t last forever. If you crash, it will be really bad.” And crash I did.
Once on my mountain bike, I slid around a corner of wet leaves and slammed my shoulder into a tree. That moment of delight ripping through a forest at speed, sliding tires on the dirt and jumping around on my bike, lead to a ligament tear that took several months to heal. With RA, the pain seemed amplified and the time it took to recover prolonged. Then again, a year later racing on the velodrome (an indoor track with banked turns on fixed geared bikes without brakes), I overlapped wheels with the rider in front of me and hit the ground at 30 mph. That hurt.
A list of injuries before my RA diagnosis
At this point in my life, I’ve had four knee surgeries, a synthetic cable put in my shoulder, another cable in my left foot, two elbow surgeries to repair a fracture, a surgery plus a week in the hospital for a punctured lung, four cosmetic surgeries to remove scar tissue on my chest from serious road rash, second and third-degree burns and road rash on my backside, and broken several bones. This was all before I had RA.
The need to minimize injury or risk becomes priority
Back then, I didn’t care so much. It was part of life. Now that I am older, I’ve had enough. RA changed me. It took a while to totally sink in but it did. I am tired of pain. The pain that comes out of nowhere, wakes me up, or leaves me limping for days as every footstep shoots pain through my feet.
Change for the better
When one lives with the specter of looming and unpredictable pain, minimizing that risk becomes the top priority. I don’t need to add to the likelihood. By slowing down and shifting my priorities, I rebuilt myself. I stopped putting myself at risk. It was no longer worth it.
Putting yourself and your health first includes not just doing things that are good for you, but also stopping things that aren’t. For me, I had to stop living in a way that continued to result in injuries and more pain.
Certain aspects of a competitive culture don't work with RA
In the athletic and competitive culture I grew up in, there was a general attitude about needing only the essentials in life. Grunting through pain and difficulty was a sign of strength. Living for comfort was soft, and a sign that you had lost your edge.
That worldview certainly goes with youth and athleticism and I have nothing against it. It doesn’t, however, work too well with RA. Balancing RA with the requirements of life is a major challenge. In fact, I’d say it’s the hardest challenge I have ever encountered. Far harder than the sports I played. It requires daily discipline, foresight, planning, and constant adaptation. It is not easy. I often fail, then start over, vowing to get it right, and trying to learn from my mistakes.
Chasing comfort when living with constant RA pain
One thing I’ve come to appreciate is just how nice comfort is. In a life where pain is almost a constant, comfort becomes an oasis. Some people are in a lot more pain than I am. No doubt about that.
I still put myself through physical challenges
And so, where before in my life, I eschewed comfort as something that could threaten my way of life, since RA, I have come to really appreciate comfort. That’s not to say that I don’t still put myself through physical challenges, like lifting weights and exercising, only that the priorities have shifted. I want to be comfortable, whether in my car, at my office, at home, or traveling. I no longer take much pride in my ability to rough it. That being said, I am proud of how tough I can be when the disease gets nasty.
Comfort as a welcomed respite
RA changed me. I’ve had enough. I want to live well with the years I’ve got ahead, and RA can be a serious threat to that. Comfort when one lives with pain or the constant thought of pain is a welcome respite. I certainly don't need to keep putting my health at risk. There is just no sense in that, no matter how fun some things are.
When was your last flare?