A rusty robot hand holding a mouse with electric bolts coming from it.

Limitations & RA

Limitations. It’s the dirty word of RA and chronic illness that no one likes to talk about. No one, and I mean no one, ill or not, likes to admit that there are limits to what they can do, especially as they get older.

But for those of us with rheumatoid arthritis and other disabilities, that word takes on a special meaning. Like a rat in a restaurant, limitations make us physically ill and we promise that we will never go to that place again – and then the next week again order dim sum to go with extra ginger sauce.

Limitations: more than just physical boundaries

The word “limitations” means something different to people who aren’t chronically ill. To anyone normal and “healthy,” that word is synonymous with “handicap.”

It’s true – you say “limitations” to someone when describing what you can’t do with RA, and people automatically picture you in a wheelchair or with a cane. And to them, you are talking about how you are physically restricted from doing whatever – playing baseball professionally, digging up rutabagas on a farm, or juggling chainsaws in the local circus. There is so much more to that word, though, than physical boundaries but let’s start with the obvious.

There are limitations that affect smaller tasks

Yes, limitations do, in part, mean things that someone with RA is physically unable to do. Let’s be honest – I know I’m never going to be able to throw, putt, swing, slap shot or hurl a ball, puck, stone, birdie, or shuttlecock into or over a net, goal, target, base, or hole.

Guess what though, THAT’S FINE! I never wanted to do any of those things anyway. The thing is, though, physical limitations aren’t only limited to big swings (see what I did there). They can affect the smallest, littlest of chores as well, and those are the ones that can really surprise someone with RA and force them to face the reality of their illness. So… storytime!

Participating in an online game

Why are limitations on my mind, you might ask? Well, it so happened that a few weeks back, I was invited to participate in an online game with some friends of a friend. Now, this wasn’t like Words With Friends or Minecraft, no. This was a full-blown, shoot-the-other-person-as-quick-as-possible, if-you-suck-you-will-be-verbally-abused, frantic frag-fest.

My RA has progressed since the last time I played

Since I’d been gaming all my life, I knew I’d be at least competent – but I forgot two very important things. Since the last time I’d participated in a game like this, my disease had progressed two decades and the world of fast-paced video games is now dominated by 15-year-olds with impossibly quick reflexes and zero need for sleep.

So, when I joined my first few matches, exactly what you think happened did, in fact, happen. I was eaten alive by teenage squeakers and 30-year-olds who had been playing games for the last decade. It wasn’t pretty. So I did what I always do – I resolved that I was going to get better through hard work, practice, and sheer force of will, my go-to in times of defeat. Unfortunately, RA had other plans.

RA limited range of motion in my wrist and hands

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, a 40+-year-old practicing a video game seems a little absurd, but I was determined not to embarrass these friends of friends by dragging the team down every single match. It just wasn’t polite gaming etiquette to suck so badly that the other team members said they’d use a knife only to my gun, “just to make it fair.” (If you don’t know gaming, that’s like a huge insult.)

So, I practiced. And practiced. And practiced some more and, as I did, something started to become apparent – it wasn’t my lack of skill that was holding me back. Rheumatoid arthritis has reared its ugly head and put a stop to my plan once again, and this time in a place I NEVER thought it would. I mean, we are talking about pecking a few keys with one hand while moving a mouse with the other. Heck, there are (amazing) disabled gamers with one hand who play these games!

No matter how hard I practiced, RA got in the way

The thing is – wrists, shoulders, and elbows are all involved in moving a mouse and while the large motions were fine, it was those quick tiny movements that just would not materialize. My hand would spasm off-target, my wrist would lock up, my shoulder would hurt, and no matter how hard I practiced and grit my teeth, I had to come to the realization that it just may not be possible to be as good as I wanted to be. Silly, right? “Who cares, it’s a stupid video game.”

That wasn’t the point, though – it was facing the fact that no matter how hard I worked or practiced, I’d never able to do the dumbest, stupidest, little thing that so many others took for granted. And that’s the other part of limitations – the mental aspect.

The mental aspect of limitations

Having to admit to yourself that your illness has stopped you from doing something as mundane as moving a mouse quickly around the screen is not easy.

There’s RA, staring at you, laughing maniacally, saying, “Ha ha, you thought you would be good at this small thing? Think again, noob!” (Noob = gaming insult). Dagger to my heart, video game headshot, career over before it started – and that’s what limitations mean to someone with chronic illness – physical and mental.

What limitations mean to people with RA

I know some of you may think video games are stupid and childish and I’m not here to debate that but simply use it as an example to show you what that word, “limitations” means to those with RA. It’s not a handicap, and it’s not just physical - it’s part of life with chronic illness. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go practice four hours just to get instantly shot by some 14-year-old playing on his iPhone who lives on Mountain Dew and Shake Shack hamburgers. Talk soon.

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