The Hermit in the Bramble-bush

I’ve been struggling lately. It’s been like a dense, mid-summer bramble-bush with a lot of sharp thorns. Some of them are big and painful; others are smallish and mainly just aggravating.

My sharpest thorns include constant, medium-to-severe rheumatoid disease pain in my wrists and hands; the broiling California-summer heat that, with its high barometric pressure, makes my joints Really. Freaking. Angry; the sadness caused by the sudden loss of my beloved rheumatologist and my apprehension and worry over not knowing anything about his replacement yet; and being a full-time caregiver to my octogenarian mom.

There are other, more everyday thorns, too. Bumper-to-bumper traffic. Traffic lights that seem like they’re always just turning red. Terrible, often heartbreaking local, national, and world news on television every night. Balancing the stretched-to-screaming budget. Endless housework. Mind-numbingly boring trips to the grocery store.

Now, I’m not singling myself out for particular sympathy. We all deal with our own personal brambly-bushes every day, and I know many of yours are a lot thornier and painful than mine. But occasionally, we all catch up in them. It’s frustrating and demoralizing, and sometimes, even embarrassing.

And the harder we struggle, the stucker we get.

When I get stuck too tight--my RD pain gets really bad, combined with several other stressors, for too long--then sometimes I hermit. I get quiet. I hide in my study/studio, claiming I have Important Work to do so I don’t have to interact much. I take care of my responsibilities as best I can, but I don’t volunteer to take on anything extra. I don’t go out unless I absolutely can’t avoid it.

I isolate. Instead of participating in Twitter and Facebook, I lurk. I neglect my blog, and unless they’re urgent, I ignore emails. My text messages become terser than ever, phone conversations short and brusque. When I’m with other people, beneath my smile and pleasant words, I’m hiding my pain, my fear, and my guilt at being unable to fight my way out of this bramble-bush by myself. And because the people I care about can’t read my mind and so don’t really know how hard I’m struggling, I get resentful, too. Can’t they tell?

I don’t like feeling like this, believe me. I’m all about bright sides and silver linings! I sing in the rain, even when there’s thunder and lightning. I go out of my way to look for the gifts, and everyday things like small birds and the scent of early morning gardenias give me joy. But I’m human, too. Despite my best efforts, sometimes life’s brambles catch me up, just like everyone else.

It’s dark and close inside the bramble-bush. It’s uncomfortable, but after a while it can start to feel sort of safe. The thorns keep people away. This suits me, because caught in the brambles, I don’t want to burden others with the things that worry, hurt, and stress me. They might think I’m weak and whiney!

So instead, I talk to myself. I commiserate with myself, sympathize with myself, and rant on about the unfairness of it all with my prickly (but always agreeable) self. Hermiting, huddled deep inside my bramble-bush for protection, I don’t have to listen to anyone but myself. I agree with me a hundred percent of the time.

So, how do I get out of it, finally? Because somehow, I always do.

For me, usually boredom’s the catalyst. I can only yack at myself for so long before I start repeating my own stories,ad tedium. I need new stories! I need someone else to talk to and bounce ideas off! Boredom makes me consider my predicament more carefully, and I start thinking, reluctantly, about how to change it. And sometimes, caught so tight I can barely move, I’ll ask for help. It always humbles me, how quickly my friends and loved ones rush to untangle me, pulling out the thorns and putting sticky bandages on my owies. All I had to do was ask.

Getting out of the bramble-bush can hurt, but no more than staying stuck in it does. And once I’m out in the world again, I feel better even though nothing has changed. I still have RD, I still hurt all the time, and I still have responsibilities. I may still have worries about my new rheumatologist, but he’s just as apt to be a great guy, like my old one, as he is to be cold and uncaring. My future with RD will always be uncertain, but with the brambles cut back, I can see that there’s no point in worrying about it now. That just plants new ones.

Living with rheumatoid disease is a constant challenge. I’d like to think that I’m always up for the fight, fit and ready, but in reality, I’m like everyone else. Sometimes life turns brambly and I transform into a hermit.

But not for long.


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