Yesterday, while most of my friends and family were sharing the details of the great bargains they found during Black Friday shopping, or preparing for the long journey back home by either plane, train, or automobile, Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy was preparing to go to class.
If you live outside of the United States, you will find that – to most people – the last Thursday of November is just another normal day. Luckily, my class schedule is MWF, which allowed me to squeeze in some uninterrupted Thanksgiving celebrations (and lots of football games) on Thursday.
As I left to go to class yesterday, I gave myself plenty of extra times, as usual. Whether I need it or not, I have gotten used to leaving much earlier than usual. If I am not doing so well when it comes to walking, this allows me to get to the classroom with the least amount of stress (and on time). If I am doing well, this allows me a few minutes at the other end during which I can sit on an outdoor bench and enjoy the beautiful views from the elevated terrace. Either way, I win.
As I passed through the sidewalks that meander through campus (I take the “scenic route” in order to avoid the stairs), I found myself struggling a little more than I had during the past few weeks. I focused in on the weight distribution between my lower body and upper body, as I tried to manage the pain in all of my different joints. My feet were hurting quite a bit, as they had been during the previous days. This usually means that I move more weight onto my crutches and upper body with each step I take…but yesterday, in addition to my wrists being in more pain than usual, my shoulders were also not doing so well.
I did my best to walk without too much pain, and eventually made it to the classroom. Along the way, I started dreaming about shock absorbers, and wondered how they would work when combined with a set of crutches. (I think I came across something similar when searching around the web for information on sports crutches, a few months back.)
During times like this, I often find thoughts of another item coming into my head: a wheelchair. I begin to envision how much more comfort I could be in, if I could just take the weight off of my legs and feet, arms and shoulders. While I am finding some mental rest from the idea of sitting down while I move around, I know that I am not thinking about all of the physical obstacles that would present themselves, should I ever actually use a wheelchair one day. (For just one example, be sure to read The Seated View’s It All Comes Down to the Bathroom.)
Whenever I find myself thinking about a wheelchair, I often finish by dismissing outright any such possibility. “Well, that might happen sometime in the future, but it’s definitely not where I am at the moment.” Or even better, “I am going to be a success – I am not ever going to have to use a wheelchair.”
I have only recently stopped to think about what it is that I am actually telling myself. In the process, I am trying to come up with some healthier thoughts.
When I evaluate my wheelchair use, I begin to realize that it is not a question about now versus the future. The reality is that while I do not use a wheelchair on a regular basis, I have actually used a wheelchair before on various occasions. There have been many trips where I have requested – and used – a wheelchair at the airport. There have been many times when I used the electric shopping cart at Target and other stores. And there have been many times during this past year when, deep down inside, I secretly wished that I have a wheelchair available for my use.
Which brings me to the second part, which is that not having to use a wheelchair while living with rheumatoid arthritis is often interpreted as a success…but is this the right way to approach the subject? After all, I have been using crutches for a large part of this past year, and I don’t think this has made me any less successful during my journey with RA. If and when I do use a wheelchair again, wouldn’t it be better for me to see it as one more sign of my ability to incorporate assistive devices into my life, and not as an indicator of losing this or that battle?
Sometimes, like yesterday, my entire body hurt, and walking was difficult. This is part of living with rheumatoid arthritis. It does not mean that I am doing everything possible to try to slow down the progression of this disease. It does not mean that I am not a rheumatoid arthritis success story. All it mean is that at certain times, the inflammation is so strong and present in so many joints, that movement of any type become difficult.
I will do whatever I need to take care of myself. This includes, but is not limited to, the possibility of using a wheelchair.
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!