Thank You, RA!
In honor of and inspired by Thanksgiving this year, which has recently passed, I've decided to write a little letter to my RA. Don't worry, I haven't gone completely nuts and I do realize that RA is not a human being or an entity to which one can send letters. However, like a real live human--a friend, spouse, or a stalker who won't leave me alone--my RA has been firmly attached to my life for 18 years. During those years, I'm sure I've written countless "letters" to this disease in my head: infuriated, grief-stricken, fearful pleas to go away and stop ruining my life. I'm really tired of those letters, however, and I'd prefer to reflect on some of the good things that RA has brought into my life. What good can come from having a severely painful chronic illness? A lot, actually.
Thank you for the invaluable friendships and personal connections I've made in the RA community and beyond because of having RA. It's unlikely that I would have met many of the people I now feel honored to call friends if I never had the disease. In late 2007 I began my little RA blog which was the starting point for making most of these connections. I gained a wonderful network and community of kind, supportive, creative, funny, and interesting people that I would not have met otherwise. I'm so grateful to know you all!
Thank you for helping to increase my compassion, patience, and empathy for others. Living with RA for so long has made me more cognizant and understanding of other people's suffering, I think, and especially if it's health-related. I'm not sure if I would feel the same way, or as deeply, if I didn't have RA myself.
Thank you for inspiring me to get involved with advocacy work. Being diagnosed with RA at the young age of 18, I hadn't done much volunteering or advocacy work prior to getting the disease. I do remember being interested in social justice and human rights as a teenager, though. Suddenly having a serious illness myself almost immediately kickstarted my interest in arthritis and health advocacy work--which continues to be very important to me today. As a patient myself, I'm deeply passionate about wanting to help others receive the best healthcare possible and to continue fighting for a cure for RA.
Thank you for helping me to appreciate my feisty Italian grandma, Nana, and everything she went through having RA herself. Unlike me, Nana got RA when she was in her 60s, I believe, and I spent my childhood seeing her immense pain, disability, and suffering. I didn't really understand what I was witnessing though until RA struck me right before starting college. Since her death in 2003, my appreciation and understanding of what an incredible woman she was has only grown. When I was a child and teenager, I didn't realize just how much physical and emotional pain she must have gone through while living with severe RA--especially during a time when there weren't as many effective treatments and medications available (pre-biologics). Despite her pain and all of the losses she suffered (she loved to sew, cook, and travel until physically unable), Nana was always such a positive and active person. As cliché as it might sound, she really did try to live life to the fullest--despite RA. I wish I had told her more how much I love, admire, and respect her.
Thank you for Ireland. Ireland? Yes, Ireland! In October 2000 I raised over $4,000 for The Arthritis Foundation and participated in my first marathon in Dublin, Ireland. I was only able to walk 9 miles due to both feet flaring up severely, but it was a wonderful experience and it introduced me to Ireland for the first time. Ireland and I got along pretty well (I loved it there) and I decided to study abroad in Cork my final year of college. Moving to Ireland for a semester as a college student at University College Cork was one of the best things I've ever done in my life. There I developed real, kindred friendships with others from Ireland and other countries that I still greatly treasure today. Some of the most exciting, enlightening, adventurous, and meaningful experiences I've had in my life were in Cork during that time. Who knows, maybe I would have gone to Ireland even if I didn't have RA? What I do know is that RA put me on a path that led to Cork, and for that I'm so thankful.
And, last but not least--thank you RA for continually reminding me to not take my health and life for granted. The uncertain and unpredictable nature of the disease, while often maddening and frightening, serves as a constant and important lesson to realize just how short life is. I think RA has helped to push me to do and try things that I maybe otherwise wouldn't if I didn't have the disease. Not knowing when or where or if you might become unable to physically do certain things can make living just a little more urgent, perhaps. I don't want to miss opportunities or wait until it's too late to experience or accomplish things. I also want to appreciate the times when my health is stable and doing well along with other areas of my life.
In closing, thank you RA for all of these things you've given me and for many others I haven't mentioned. While most of the time I think of you as a nasty dark curse on my life that snatches away my happiness, I know that you are also a strangely beautiful gift.
With sincere thanksgiving,
P.S. Here's one more thank-you for inspiring me to actually complete the Dublin marathon in October 2003! I wouldn't have been able to raise another $4,000 and walk the entire 26.2 miles on swollen feet without your motivating influence. Crossing the finish line and falling into the welcoming arms of my friend Rachel after walking for over 8.5 hours was a truly priceless and unforgettable experience.
On a scale of 1(low) to 5(high), how difficult is it for you to talk about having RA?