The RA Shuffle

I have days, fortunately fairly far between, where a limp is unavoidable.  The only way I can move is to put as little pressure as possible on a painful hip, knee, or ankle.  I also have good days where rheumatoid arthritis does not affect my gait at all.  Then there are those in-between days, where I am in pain and want to treat my joints gingerly, but the pain isn’t so intense as to outweigh the consideration of public perception.  The majority of my coworkers and acquaintances do not know that I have an autoimmune disease. I am not embarrassed by my condition, and if my rheumatoid arthritis is relevant to a conversation, I bring it up. Yet, I do hate the awkwardness that can follow a disclosure that I am limping because I have RA. Most people asking someone in her 30s why she’s limping are expecting to hear about an injury on the tennis court or the like. Most are not prepared for the far more depressing news that I am limping because I have a disease. Therefore, I often prefer to skip those conversations by keeping my invisible disability invisible, and avoiding limping as much as I can. However, on those in-between days when my social needs compete with my physical needs, I end up with an altered walk that isn’t quite a limp, but certainly isn’t fluid and is far from graceful. I call this the RA shuffle.

What is the RA shuffle

Doing the RA shuffle involves walking at a much slower pace than normal while trying not to lift my feet too high off the ground. Each step is deliberate and sluggish. Those not familiar with this particular move can just picture the zombies from The Walking Dead, minus all the grunting. If I’m on my way to work, the RA shuffle can add minutes to the time it takes to get to my office. The minute it usually takes to get from the parking lot to the building becomes three minutes. The large staircase that leads to my office adds another couple of minutes to my standard time, as I have to bring both feet to each step before descending to the next, not wanting to risk the reduced stability of each foot skipping a stair.

The RA shuffle comes with exhaustion and discomfort

On an RA shuffle day, I feel self-conscious. Achiness already makes me hyperaware of every movement, and thoughts of whether I look odd walking the way that’s least uncomfortable only make me more attentive to my motions. I feel exhausted on these days, both from the pain and fatigue of RA and also from the energy expended figuring out how to be at all productive, how to move from one place to another, without ramping up the discomfort to full-on flare. I know that I’m fortunate to be walking at all, as some people never have a day free from limping, and others don’t have any choice but to employ a cane, walker, or wheelchair. So I’ll take walking over not walking, and I’ll take shuffling over limping. That being said, I’m also incredibly grateful for the days when I can walk carefree, having no use for the maneuver that is the RA Shuffle.

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