Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy’s episodes of morning stiffness are back. (If this was a Bruce Willis movie, they would be back with a vengeance!)
During the almost five years in which I have lived with rheumatoid arthritis, I have experienced these episodes on and off. They have always been limited to my knees and ankles. It has been a little more than two months since my last occurrence of regular episodes of morning stiffness. Now, it seems that they have expanded to include my fingers and wrists as well.
These words that I am typing are my first movements of the day. My joints are still tingling from numbness, but have finally passed the stage where they feel completely frozen, and where the mental signals that I send out to move them are completely ignored. Early on when it was just my ankles that were affected, I had a difficult time accepting the temporary limitations that come with morning stiffness. I felt trapped when I could not just wake up and jump out of bed…this is not how things are supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how the notion of “make believe” has been intertwined in my journey with rheumatoid arthritis.
When I first had my episodes of morning stiffness, I used to make believe that this was not really happening. I was in my early thirties…what do you mean that my ankles are too stiff to move in the morning, and that I have to wait anywhere from half an hour to two hours before they defrost? When I found myself bumping up directly against the limitations – wanting to move even though my joints could not move – I found myself struggling with overwhelming sensations of claustrophobia.
Yet still, I would continue to make believe. I believed that all I needed was a head transplant onto another body. This was straight out of science fiction, I know, but it was what helped me cope with what was going on with my body at the time. The fact that this happening once, much less that this would happen for life, was far too much for my mind to comprehend and accept.
Once when I was camping with family, it was my turn to put my young niece and nephew to sleep. As I went into the tent with them, I realized that I could not recall any fairy tales or bedtime stories. So I decided to take them on a magic carpet ride, one of my own favorite memories from when I was in first grade. I asked them to close their eyes, and then told them that they blankets they were on were actually magic carpets.
Slowly, these magic carpets hovered into the air, and I prepared them for the ride over the park in which we were camping. I pointed out the tents and campfires below. I showed them the river we swimmed in earlier in the day. We flew in circles, and their giggles told me that they too were enjoying this magic carpet ride.
I then told them to hold on tight, that we were going to go even higher in order to fly towards on of the nearby cities. At the moment, my nephew – who was the youngest of the two, said “I don’t want to go any higher…I’m scared.” And then it hit me – for young kids with vivid imaginations, these magic carpet rides were real. I still have clear memories of the magic carpet rides that my first grade teacher took the class on…and I have to admit that in many ways, they were quite real as well.
These magic carpet rides remind me of the power of the mind…and the beauty of “make believe” – when it’s used appropriately.
So now, when I find myself encountering physical limitations that are presented by my rheumatoid arthritis whether they are temporary losses in movement due to morning stiffness (like the situation I was in just an hour ago) or more extended periods of loss due to longer periods of inflammation, I once again remind myself of the power of “make believe”.
I no longer try to make believe that I do not live with rheumatoid arthritis, or that the physical symptoms that are taking place in my body are not actually happening. Instead, I use my powers of make believe to blast past any physical limitations. My feet can’t get me out of bed? That’s okay…my mind will take care of me for the next hour. I’m unable to even move my hands to press a button on my iPod? That’s okay…my mind will enjoy the music that is playing at the moment, and will focus on that.
And just like a magic carpet ride, it will eventually come to an end. I will be back where I started. My ankles will start flexing on command. My hands and fingers will uncurl, and I will be back to typing on my computer. Not only is everything okay…but it was actually a little bit of fun.
After all, how many people get to start their day with a magic carpet ride?
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!