alt=a man ponders two diverging paths

The "If You Could Go Back and Not Have RA..." Question

Someone asked me the other day, “If you could go back and not have RA, would you do it?”

It’s a question they love to ask in interviews and it comes up all the time. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked that question I’d be, well… not rich per se but I could do a hell of a lot of coin-op laundry. The problem is that there is no answer to the question.

An unrealistic question...

Dividing by 0. If you remember back to your high school math classes, you’ll remember that you can’t divide by zero. Not because you can’t figure out the answer but simply because it’s not a thing that exists. Dividing by zero isn’t a real thing, it has no meaning, and that’s how I feel about the “If you could go back…” question. The question has no definition.

...and a not-so-obvious answer

The funny thing about being asked this question, though, is that I always get the sense that the person who asks it always expects me to be like “yes, definitely, 100%, right-on, A-OK, 10-4, surely. I’d go back and not have this wretched disease definitely, it sucks!!” Now, if you could assure me that I could go back in time and stop that flu or that tick bite that set off my immune system and that absolutely nothing else in my life would change at all, then yeah, of course I’d do it. You’d have to be an idiot not to take that deal, it’s a no-lose situation. In reality, though, you can’t just go back and not have RA – there’s always going to be the Back to the Future problem.

The Back to the Future dilemma

In case you have been hiding in a cave on the moon with a blindfold on for the last 40 years and haven’t seen Back to the Future, let me break it down for you. In that movie, our protagonist, Marty McFly, goes back in time and totally borks up his parent’s meet. Not only that, but in a much more cringe turn of events, he actually starts to take his dad’s place and even kisses his own mom at one point but we aren’t going to go down that particular rabbit hole of quantum-realm-incest in this post.

You see, by screwing up his parents' quirky first meeting, he essentially starts a process that changes his entire future life and even endangers his very existence. The ultimate point I’m making is that you can’t just go back and change one thing and expect your entire life to be the same, because that’s not the way life, or apparently time travel, works.

Who would I be without RA?

As you can see if you factor in the Back to the Future problem, there’s no way I can answer if I’d go back and not have RA. I’m simply terrified that I wouldn’t turn out to be as kind and empathetic as I am now. In addition, following that thought trail to its logical end – what if I turn out to be a total jackass?

If I had never gotten RA, been bullied, felt what it was like to be ostracized and criticized, I may have not gone on to swear that I’d never make anyone else feel that way. If I didn’t feel the extreme fear and utter despair of being trapped in your own body, I may not have turned out with the ability to understand and process why others feel and act the way they do when they are unkind – which more often than not comes from a place of fear. If I hadn’t grown up around some of the smartest people in medical science in the country, I may not have turned out to revere science and math the way I do. Heck, maybe I would have ended up in one of those kooky cults that tries to cure everything by adjusting your “aura,” who knows?

The point I’m making is that I wouldn’t be me, and as anyone close to me can tell you, there is no one who loves me more than me.

Please stop asking this question!

So, if there are any potential interviewers or just curious people out there, I’ll give you a tip. A much better question to ask than the tired old, “If you could go back and not have RA..” inquiry would be, “If you could wake up tomorrow with your RA cured, how would your life change?” I think most of us who live with chronic illness have had to come to terms with the whole concept of “what’s done is done and it isn’t coming back,” so asking a forward-looking question is more likely to get an interesting and thoughtful response.

So, what would my answer be?

Now that I have just spent the last 3 paragraphs telling you why the question means nothing, how it’s flawed, and better questions to ask, I bet you still want me to answer it. Ha, ha, admit it – you do. It’s fine, it’s human nature. If I had to give an answer then, it’s no, I’m not going to risk the all-encompassing awesomeness that is me just to have less pain. Pain I can live with, not being me, however, is a deal breaker. Talk soon.

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