RA Is Not A Competition
Seeing Instagram or Facebook photos of fellow RA sufferers, my “Spoonies,” running in marathons or completing triathlons is amazing and inspiring. Running, mountain-climbing, hiking, biking very long distances at a time–these are all things I can’t do, but I marvel at and respect my friends and others with RA who can.
I admit, sometimes seeing these go-getters’ photos online drives me a little nuts. Why? I’m not jealous exactly, but the longing I feel to be active like them can get strong and even painful. In the past I’ve done a lot of grieving over the physical things I can no longer do in life, such as playing sports or even going on leisurely walks–thanks to getting RA as a teenager and a pair of ankles that have been constantly inflamed for over 10 years.
While I’ve accepted that I won’t climb Mt. Everest or be a tennis champion at Wimbledon (biking to my local tennis court can be a challenge itself), sometimes I feel pangs of sadness hit me when catching glimpses of fellow Spoonies accomplishing impressive athletic feats.
It’s not only their physical achievements, but that they also look toned and terrific, which makes me wish I could join in. Yet as soon as my overweight and sluggish self starts to entertain the thought of buying a pair of running shoes, or mapping out a long bike journey, RA usually screams a loud, firm, “NO! DON’T DO IT!” This message is communicated in the form of bloated feet and ankles, throbbing with inflammation, pierced with pain.
Feeling helplessly sidelined, I try to console myself with the thought–well, at least I still have my mind (and there are many days I even question this). Having my mind in tact but no longer a functioning, pain-free body is a hard pill to swallow though. I want so much to be an active, engaged participant in the world. It’s not easy to see other people doing awesome physical things when you can’t join in.
Comparing yourself to others is an insecure and futile behavior, I know, yet it’s difficult to refrain from sometimes. Social media–only a click or swipe away–makes the temptation to compare even harder to resist. When you see images or read things of people who are participating in fun, exciting activities, it can make you feel bad and mourn for your once-active, pre-RA body and life.
It’s easy to fall into that trap of longing and wanting to belong: Maybe I want to post photos on Instagram or Facebook of myself, looking extremely lean and attractive, smiling and waving at the camera during a run. Or tweet a photo of the intimidating mountain I just climbed, despite having RA. Or show the world that I can bike a million miles while wearing spandex like Lance Armstrong. Actually, scratch that. The world doesn’t need to see me wearing spandex, and nobody should want to be like Lance Armstrong, but that’s a different topic.
Living with RA isn’t a competition though, and you shouldn’t feel the need to compare your abilities (or lack of them) or your body to anybody else. It’s important to remember this and to remember that everyone’s RA and bodies are different. Some people can swim 50 laps in the pool while others consider it a victory to get in and out of the bathtub. One accomplishment isn’t better than the other, just as one form of RA isn’t better or worse than another.
Everyone is fighting his or her own battles, and what we see splashed across social media is often a tiny representation of a person’s life–and usually only the good parts. He or she may look exuberant and perfect crossing that finish line, but who knows what’s really going on. And when I stop to think about it: do I really want to run in a marathon or participate in some other crazy hardcore event where I would be hot and sweaty and miserably uncomfortable? Um, probably not. I’d like to have the option though.
I want to reiterate that I 100% respect and support my motivated fellow Spoonies in all of their athletic accomplishments. Their courage, strength, determination, and tenacity in the face of chronic pain is an inspiration for everyone. But I admire those of us who are often on the sidelines too–individuals who find their own, maybe quieter ways to bring strength, bravery, beauty and integrity into the world while also fighting against RA.