Everything's Alright

This morning while walking, an acquaintance and I stopped to talk. How often have we said, "Everything is alright" when we are suffering from difficulties of rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?

I do not know this lady well; we have only made passing comments as we walk, usually in opposite directions. She walks with a little dog, and I typically stop to scratch the little dog's head.

Was I really "alright"?

She asked how I was doing. I started to say, "I am alright," but I stopped because I was not alright. 

I was overdue on Rituxan by 1 month. And to get a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot, I had not been using methotrexate for almost 3 weeks.

I have been dragging each morning. I have tried to walk. I am slower, and I hurt with each step. But I keep going, or I try to do so. 

So, what to tell my acquaintance? Was I "fine" or was I willing to tell the truth?

RA was kicking my butt

I said, "Rheumatoid arthritis is kicking my butt this week. I am off RA medications and, frankly, I am plodding, and I hurt with each step."

The lady gave me a sympathetic ear. She told me about her struggle with arthritis. She even told me how much her little dog suffers. After a few minutes, we parted. I gave the little dog one final scratch and off, I went.

What she thought about me doesn't matter

Now, what does she think about me? It does not matter. 

Nor does it matter that she does not recognize the difference between RA and OA. Or that while I am sure she hurts, she cannot know what it is like to have all your energy zapped by RA. 

All that matters is that we shared a pleasantry, and we both enjoyed her little dog for a few minutes. Other than that, we know nothing of each other.

As I walked on, I replayed the conversation several times. There were many ways this conversation could have been different. 

What if I had said, "I am okay"? I suppose our discussion would have been shorter. I would have known much less about her little dog, and she would not have known I was off my RA medications and struggling. I am sure that would have been just fine; my struggle did not change her day.

Then, a song

As I walked, a John Mellencamp song came on my music player. The song is about a fictional murder that is the product of domestic abuse*. Perhaps an odd song to contemplate after my brief conversation, but the song "Case 795 (The Family)" has the following lyric:1

Everything's all right with the family
Everything is safe here at home
Everything's all right with the family
The beds are made, but there's no sheets on.

I will get to the point of the song in a second. But, I could have said I was fine this morning, smiled, and gone on with my life.

Sharing a moment of humanity

Yet, what struck me about the song is the line "the beds are made, but there are no sheets on," reminding us that we often say things are fine when they are not.1

Neither of us would have been more or less educated. Had I done that, we would have missed a moment of humanity. Somehow sharing a moment of humanity was worth the price of a scratch on her dog's head.

I hope each of you who have read my remembrance might think about the last time you got the question, "How are you doing?" Did you say, "I am fine" when you were not? As I discovered this morning, sometimes saying "I'm fine" can mean we have missed so much. I am glad I did not say "I am fine" this morning.

*Author's note on domestic abuse: If you are in a domestic abuse situation, please get help. The number to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline is 1-800-799-7233, or you can send a text message to 88788. In 2018, the Verizon Foundation and MORE Magazine Survey stated that women who have experienced domestic violence are significantly more likely to suffer from a chronic health condition than those who have not.2

While domestic abuse is not a comorbidity of chronic illness, the two factors are associated. No one should suffer in an abusive relationship. If you are in such a relationship, please reach out to your national, state, or local domestic abuse agency, your family, or trusted friends. We know that not everything that looks like it is okay is okay. If you are in an abusive situation, you are not alone.  Help is available; please reach out.

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