Searching for Peace in a Quiet Day
When I was in college, I loved staying out until the wee hours of the night going dancing or to concerts, then sleeping until noon and spending the rest of a Saturday or Sunday afternoon reading or watching movies. Perhaps it was my youth and the lesser responsibilities of that time of my life, but I had no qualms about spending hours reading a novel, putting together a puzzle, or chatting on the phone with a friend. That was when I was still in relatively good health, and felt I was living life to the fullest. Yet, the summer before my senior year my health derailed my reality as I knew it, and my diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis changed my relationship with rest and relaxation.
Movie marathons became less of a luxurious reward after a busy week of working and studying and more about distracting my brain from the pain in the inflamed joints I was resting. Reading, which has always been a passion of mine, ceased being a rewarding addiction in which I promised myself I would go to sleep after the next chapter, only to repeat that vow at each chapter’s end. Instead, the pain and the painkillers treating it left me rereading the same paragraph over and over, realizing each time I completed it that I wasn’t following the story. Once rest became a necessity rather than a choice, I began viewing it as an unwelcome obligation instead of experiencing it as a gratifying luxury.
Once I became a mother, and then a working mother, this perception of rest as a great inconvenience has only intensified. My to-do list is always so much longer that what I can get through in a day. There are always dishes to be done, baskets of laundry to fold, bedtime stories to be read, boo boos to kiss, sibling squabbles to resolve, errands to run, and meals to be made, all in the hours remaining after work and sleep take the lion’s share of a 24-hour period. Being a working mother is challenging for every woman I’ve had an honest conversation with, and most of them aren’t contending with chronic illness. On a good day I typically feel as if I’m barely keeping up with all I have to do, so when my RA rears its ugly head and forces me into repose, it’s difficult not to be irate. I often feel as if my arthritis is a big sand trap perpetually popping up and preventing me from making par.
Yet, on those days when I’m in too much pain to go about a normal day, when I watch my husband picking up my slack with guilt gnawing at me, I am working to remind myself that there can, in fact, be peace found in a quiet day. While I might have hoped for a productive day of taking my to-do list by storm, being calm and idle allows me to observe my children with more attention, to catch up on TV shows everyone has been telling me I would love, to look out the window and watch the way the leaves blow in the breeze or the way the sunlight filters through the trees. I am striving to find that sense of enjoyment that I experienced in my college days, when it felt deliciously decadent to spend hours in repose. The fact that my disease dictates this need for rest will continue to be a literal sore spot, yet I am trying to find the gratification in giving my body what it needs. Eventually, after I honor my body’s request for rest by being idle for an hour, an evening, a day, or a weekend, depending on how much rest my joints require, I am able to once again have the productive day I was hoping for. Rheumatoid arthritis alters my timeline, but it hasn’t been detrimental to my dreams. I can still accomplish all that I set out to do, just not necessarily as quickly as I’d like. Being hard on myself for needing to rest doesn’t change the need, it only makes me feel worse. Rather than chastise myself for a condition over which I have very little control, I am working to focus on all that I have achieved in spite of this disease.