Living Outside Your Comfort Zone and Drinking Poop Coffee

"Out of your comfort zone." We say this phrase all the time. It’s part of the American English vernacular that has withstood the test of time when describing doing something that we normally wouldn’t do.

I heard myself say it this past week and it got me thinking: When you have a chronic illness like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) you live outside your comfort zone – anyone’s comfort zone – all your life.

Common sense says to stay away

More than likely, you’ve heard this phrase when someone is trying to cajole you into doing something that they, themselves, had to be cajoled into doing.

Why? Because it’s usually something that all common sense would tell you to stay away from like the plague. For instance, if someone said, "Do you want to try this coffee that was pooped out of a civet?" your completely rational response would be, "Ummm, no. Also, what’s a civet?"

The thing is, your friend can’t be the only one tricked into drinking poop coffee and, since misery loves company, they say, "Come on, try something outside your comfort zone!"

Upon hearing it, something in your brain suddenly views it as a challenge and, before you know it, you are ingesting the juice of a coffee bean that has previously been ingested by a small Pilipino jungle cat.

There isn't a comfort zone with RA

When you are chronically ill and/or disabled from RA, though, "comfort zone" takes on a whole new meaning. Or, really, takes on no meaning because there is no comfort zone when you deal with the pain and side effects of rheumatoid arthritis.

Heck, I’d let them feed me a pound of coffee beans to poop out and sell every single day if it meant I had a "comfort zone" I could go to and escape the ravages of years of degenerative disease.

The closest many of us come to comfort is getting into the exact right position in bed after you’ve taken all your meds, adjusted all your splints and pillows, and still have at least 1 spoon left.

There's always something

Really, though: Outside the "comfort zone" is where most of us live, most of the time – especially those who have been dealing with chronic illness and rheumatoid arthritis for years. There just is not a moment when your illness or one of its comorbidities isn’t flaring up.

Comfort isn't associated with RA

If it’s not the RA making your joints hurt, it’s the damaged joint that’s basically bone-on-bone.

If it’s not the damaged joint that basically bone-on-bone, it’s your heart kicking into AFib because of the heart attack you had after shoulder replacement surgery.

If it’s not your heart kicking into AFib, then it’s the anxiety you’ve developed after years of fearing the worst.

If it isn’t... well, you get the idea. Comfort just is not a word that I’d ever associate with a chronic illness like rheumatoid arthritis.

Use comfort zones to your advantage

Now, all of that being said, guess what? I’m going to tell you that you should go outside your comfort zone whenever possible – figuratively, that is.

I know, I know, you are probably like, "Didn’t he just spend half the piece telling us that people with chronic illness are always outside the "comfort zone" and should try to keep it to a minimum?"

Yes, yes, I did say that. But I do have a good rationale – just hear me out. If you are going to be outside your comfort zone most of the time anyway, why not use it to your advantage to experience some fantastic things?

A chance to do something new

Look, the simple fact is that your RA or your disability is more than likely always going to make you at least somewhat uncomfortable. Whether it’s physical pain, people staring at you, or awkward relationship interactions – you are already going to be drinking the proverbial poop coffee.

So, why not use it as an opportunity to experience something new? A little confusing, I know, so here’s an example.

Public speaking. Just saying the words, I’m sure, gave most of you a tiny hit of adrenaline and made you clench your behind just a little bit – and that’s natural. Public speaking is one of the top "outside your comfort zone" fears in the world.

The thing is, going out in public with RA or any other chronic illness or disability is extremely similar – all eyes are probably on you, people are watching to see if you mess up or limp, and you feel the need to present as normal as possible.

These are pretty much the same exact fears and expectations you have with public speaking, so...go ahead! Say "yes" to speaking to that class of medical students about disability! See what I mean now?

Turn shortcomings into assets

Living with chronic illness and disability means having to turn your shortcomings and weaknesses into assets and strengths. It’s what we do every single time we get out of bed in the morning. We must or else the RA will get the best of us and there is nothing we like less than letting the illness win.

We must not let RA win

To compensate, we pivot and turn that loss into a win. If we can’t get out of bed, well, then we make that into the day of rest we were planning for the end of the week. It’s a skill that develops when you live with chronic illness and disability, and this is no different.

If you are going to live outside the comfort zone, then let’s turn it to our advantage and start experiencing things that normal, healthy, people would avoid for fear of exposure and failure – something we are experts at dealing with. Now, though, I have to go and grind up some poopy coffee beans – it really is good, glad I tried it. Talk soon.

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