RA is a Party Pooper

I like to think of myself as a fun person. I’ve always been a social butterfly, I enjoy being playful, and I love to make people laugh. An extrovert, I’m all about a good party, whether I’m attending or hosting. However, just as rheumatoid arthritis can often leave me feeling older than my years, it can also suck the life out of a party.

For instance, a few weeks ago my husband and I went out for a night on the town to celebrate a friend’s birthday. We have two small children, and it is rare thing that we go out past 9:00. We arranged for the kids to spend the night with their grandmother so that we could participate in the night’s events, which included dinner, drinks, and . . . bowling. The bowling was not planned ahead of time, an impromptu idea that came up once we had our fill of the bar scene. While bowling is not at all an arthritis-friendly activity, I was game for a change of scenery and to watch the others. Yet, once we got there everyone wanted me to bowl, and I figured I’d give it a shot, and give any remaining frames to my husband if my hands couldn’t hold out.

My trouble started in trying to find a ball. Clearly, the manufacturers of bowling balls do not have the arthritic in mind. There were plenty of lighter balls that would have been far friendlier to my joints than the heavier ones, but their holes were drilled to accommodate children’s fingers. The only balls that my fingers, swollen and therefore larger than most women’s, would fit into were balls far too heavy for comfort. So I put my fingers halfway into the lighter options, ending up with plenty of gutter balls as the ball stuck on my fingers instead of releasing cleanly. I then did my share of “granny bowling,” using both hands to roll the ball. I made it through an entire game, and though my fingers and wrists were pretty darn sore, I was feeling grateful that I was able to participate and that I’d played an entire game. Just then, everyone decided to play another round. When I said I was done but would be happy to watch, they protested with statements like, “Come on, just one more game!” Reminding them of my RA, I said, “With my rheumatoid arthritis one game is all my hands can take.” Yet, some of them continued to try to get me to play. I assume they did this because they wanted to include me (and perhaps because that last pitcher of beer left them forgetting what rheumatoid arthritis is), but their pleas just left me feeling awkward and like a party pooper.

Similarly, I also felt like the odd man out when we had a rare snowstorm in Georgia, with the kind of wet, heavy snow perfect for snowball fights. We walked to a neighbor’s house and proceeded to have a huge snowball battle. It had been close to two decades since I’d been in a full-on snowball fight, and it was hilarious and fun. However, a little slip on the snow sent searing pain through my hip. I had to limp my way back to the house through inches of snow, and by the time I made it to the couch I was in tears and short of breath. I listened to merry shouts and peals of laughter continue from outside while I waited for the painkiller and heating pad my husband brought me to kick in.

One of my most frustrating RA-induced changes of plan involved a stint I had as a bartender. I had just resigned from a very stressful social work job working for a difficult boss, and I decided to do something completely different and try my hand at bartending. I had a friend whose husband ran a bar, and he said he’d be happy to give me a shot at pouring shots. It turned out to be a blast. During slow shifts I would work on playlists, choosing songs just right for different times of day and days of the week. I put a lot of effort into customer service, and although I sometimes had to check my cheat sheet to remember how certain cocktails were made, I had multiple customers tell me I was their favorite bartender. While I had always thought the stereotype of telling one’s troubles to the bartender was a bit strange, as I started to develop regular clientele at my standard shifts I did indeed have people share with me news of job losses or marital spats. I realized that by being a kind listener, I was performing a different brand of social work. My happy hour shifts became more and more popular, and I felt excited at the idea that one could make a living at something that was fun.

Yet, while I was emotionally enjoying myself, my body was having a hard time. Before each shift I had to bring buckets of ice and cases of beer and liquor up from the basement. The floor in the bar was tile, which was incredibly hard on my hips and knees. We had to stand during our entire shifts, so even during slow times I couldn’t rest on a barstool. I began taking Lortab in order to get through a shift, and when I began needing an additional Lortab mid-shift I realized that bartending with RA just wasn’t going to work out. In the end I was only at that job for three months. I still have incredibly fond memories of making jokes with friendly customers and facilitating other people’s good times, and I wish I could have stayed at the job longer.

I have been very lucky in the 15 years since my diagnosis. While I have experienced multiple RA-related setbacks, and have had to repeatedly adjust my timetable in meeting various goals, I have been able to complete a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, develop a career, and have two children. I have a full life, and things could be far, far worse. That being said, it is frustrating when RA rains on my parade in ways large and small, leaving me feeling like I’m on the outside looking in at the party others are having.

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