Earlier today, I started my day by reading the following words on the Facebook page for Toni Bernhard’s book “How To Be Sick”:
I awoke to an email from a woman who finds comfort in the same words I do from Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck in Chapter 3 of the book: “Our life is always all right. There’s nothing wrong with it. Even if we have horrendous problems, it’s just our life.”
These words really stuck with me throughout my day. I think it’s true that when you live with chronic illness, it’s all too easy to spend a lot of time thinking about what’s wrong with your life. I myself have fallen into this thought pattern in the past. But over the past couple of months, I have made it a personal goal to focus on what is right with my life. Like I’ve said in the past, no matter how much rheumatoid arthritis seems to take away, the list of what I can do will always be longer that the list of what I cannot to. All too often, it’s just a matter of perspective.
For the many years (almost a decade) in which I worked as a User Experience Designer/Information Architect for some of the leading companies whose web brands are no doubt familiar to most people, I absolutely loved the design work that I was doing, but deep down inside I was sort of bored with the fact that my efforts were being applied to “just another” online retail site.
As with many people stuck in the corporate grind, I longed for my work to have more meaning. Only yesterday did I realize that, thanks to my rheumatoid arthritis, I have indeed accomplished this goal. This Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy website has not only allowed me to connect with others and receive the support I need, but it has also been a creative outlet that allows me to write and design, even on my roughest days. And most importantly, it has meaning…not only for myself, but also for others.
Earlier this year I left my job as a college professor at a local university, partly due to the progression of my rheumatoid arthritis. (Even special accommodations weren’t enough to keep me going.) A part of me was absolutely devastated at the time. I love teaching. I loved being able to motivate my students to do things they had previously not even thought about. But I didn’t like the increased physical pain that came as a result of forcing myself to go to campus on a daily basis.
So I decided that I would focus on subject tutoring and test preparation, as this would allow me to work from the comfort of my own home. Just this past week I realized that not only am I once again teaching, but that I am working with really smart student who are especially motivated to learn even more, in hopes of attending college in the United States. I’m happy that I can play a pivotal role in this process. I originally wasn’t happy with the path that RA forced me to take…but now that I’m here, I wouldn’t change a thing. Honestly.
This evening, I finished my day by reading The Life and Adventures of Cateepoo’s (must-read) post The Best Thing That Can Happen To Me Is Happening Right Now. About a month ago, I landed on Cathy’s blog during a particularly challenging flare (I often go to her page for inspiration, when I’m running short of it myself), and came across these words. As I understood their meaning, and repeated this thought to myself over and over, my flare suddenly went from being “unbearable” to being “bearable”. And I got though things.
These two thoughts that I found online today were particularly appropriate bookends to my day, especially considering that I experienced a pretty severe flare during the afternoon. Even though I had little to no control over most of my body, and the pain was once again off the charts, I found myself completely calm. I was completely present, aware of what was going on, and I knew that my ability to communicate with the outside world was limited (sometimes I don’t even have the strength to talk), but I was okay. I looked at my flare directly, as I had never been able to do before.
And during this time, while I laid there connecting with my mind, I thought to myself: “It feels like I am never going to be able to move again.” (Even though I know that it’s going to pass, the truth of the matter is that it really does feel like I am never going to be able to move again.) I finally saw this thought for the trigger that it is; the switch that I often subconsciously turn on when my flares are at their worst, and which commonly results in increased feelings of fear and anxiety.
Today, everything was different from what has always happened in the past. I accepted the fact that it did really feel like I was never going to move again, but I found comfort in the knowledge that I would once again be moving soon.
Even though it sometimes feels like everything is closing in on us, and that things will never get better, we have to keep moving forward. This is the only way though the constant challenges that come our way as a result of living with rheumatoid arthritis. We can’t go back. We can’t get stuck. We can only move forward…if not physically, then mentally.
No matter what’s wrong, there is still a lot that is right with our lives.
This is MY life, and it’s the best thing that can happen to me right now.
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!