Those of you who follow the blog regularly know I have rheumatoid arthritis.
It’s something I’ve been living with three times as long as the years I’ve lived without Dominic and I find strange parallels in the twin journey of chronic disease and chronic heartache.
Both are crippling in their own way, both force me to work around the pain. Both have changed me in ways I could not have imagined and certainly wouldn’t have wished on myself or my family.
Both have taught me to endure.
Both have taught me many other things as well:
I have learned to be more compassionate. With pain as my constant companion, it reminds me this life is hard and that it’s hard for others too.
I have learned not to take a good day for granted. I never know when I will wake to an RA flare, I am constantly surprised by random heavy grief days and I can’t tell when I go to bed at night what tomorrow will bring. So when a day is good, I grab hold of every moment. I laugh, I move, I do things that make my heart sing. And I store the memory for days that aren’t so good.
I have learned to be gentle to myself. I can only do what I can do. And what I can’t do today will just have to wait for tomorrow-or maybe wait for forever-and that’s OK.
I have learned to say, “no” graciously, without making excuses. I try very hard to live up to commitments so I am selective in taking on new ones. I know that if I take on too many, I’m sure to have to let someone down in the end. I can’t make others outside my disease or my grief understand so I’m learning to not try. Their disappointment or disapproval is something they have to carry, not me. (I wrote more about this here: No. It’s a Complete Sentence.)
I have learned to create “work arounds” for the things that I have to do but are very hard to do. For my RA that means unloading the dishwasher two plates at a time instead of lifting the whole stack at once. For my grieving heart that means spreading out the hard things over a week instead of a few hours. It means not feeling compelled to answer every message, phone call or text right away if my mind is unclear or my heart too heavy.
I’ve learned to wear what’s comfortable. Whether that is shoes that accommodate my crooked toes or refusing to put on a “happy face” mask in public-I am who I am. I certainly don’t mope around or try to draw attention to myself. But I’m just not responsible for making other people feel comfortable with my disease or my grief.
I have learned to plan “rest stops” on my daily journey. It may be a moment to sit down or a moment to do something creative or a moment to watch a funny video-but each thing is designed to help me recharge for the next few hours. If I try to soldier on I end up too tired and emotionally spent to do anything. One day of that and I may lose a whole week. So I pace myself.
I have learned that appropriate medical intervention and treatment is not a crutch, it’s a pathway to a more productive life. I resisted taking medication for my RA for a long time-the potential side effects are frightening. But when the swelling, pain and joint deformity became too much to bear, I gave in. I shouldn’t have waited so long. It was foolish. I will never be free of the disease, but my life can be better with appropriate intervention. It’s the same with grief. Anti-depressants and anxiety medicine do not remove the pain of grief but they can make space in a heart and mind to do the work grief requires. There is NO SHAME in using whatever tools are available to make it through.
I have learned to ask for help. There are a number of things I just can’t do alone. I used to be able to do them. But not anymore. Asking for help is not defeat. I have to remind myself of that. At the end of the day what matters is that what matters gets done-I don’t get “extra credit” for struggling through alone.
I have learned to speak my truth. (This is one I’m still working on!) If I am having a bad pain day or a bad grief day, I don’t try to hide it. I just tell those who ask and those closest to me the truth. The energy I have to expend to keep it covered up means less energy to work on the underlying factors contributing to the bad day. It’s just NOT worth it. And I’m not good at hiding it anyway.
I have learned that walking (literally or figuratively) with a limp is not a defect. It’s simply my life. I won’t apologize for it. If someone asks, I’ll share. But if not, I just go limping along, making my way forward. I might be slow, but I’m moving.
And that’s what counts in the end.
I will walk with an emotional limp for the rest of my life … But I don’t want it to just remind me of the struggle and the pain; I want it to remind me of a place of surrender, a place where God met me and blessed me. Otherwise, it is just wasted pain.
~Nancy Guthrie, The One Year Book of Hope, p. 332