What’s Right With Your Life?

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!

12 Comments
12 comments
  1. Dawn says:

    So true! Not only that but the longer you have it the more you come to terms with it. If that makes sense. A lot of ppl who talk about what’s wrong all the time, still haven’t fully accepted what’s happening to them. Look folks, it is what it is, accept it and MOVE ON! Otherwise you will be stuck, miserable, wallowing and be unable to gain perspective on your life and the situation.

    Humor has helped me live with RA, FM, Cancer (x2), 21 surgeries, CVD & now a whole bunch of other stuff that goes with the CVD (for 24 years). I joke about the cancer, the surgeries, the deformities, ALL of it! It’s called survival! Plus it helps everyone AROUND YOU deal with what is going on in your body & helps put them at ease.

    The last bout of cancer, however, (breast cancer & I had a mastectomy) I just kept telling myself over and over….”Dawn, shut that head up, there is ALWAYS someone worse off than you are” 3 days after the mastectomy when I got many blood clots in both lungs & was sent back in critical condition….same thing! That was 2+ years ago and I AM STILL HERE….bcuz there is and always will be someone worse than I. Get some perspective folks….life is way toooo short!!!

  2. Christina says:

    RA Guy, thanks for another inspiring post. Last night we were at our friends’ house, and I was having side effects from meds which made me fall asleep while the BBQ was happening, and I had a flare and couldn’t really get out of my chair the whole time, and by the time we were driving home I was in really bad shape. But I assured my husband that I’d still had a really good time with our friends. And I had. I told him that I am really learning that I can have fun and even joy while I’m in a lot of pain. I was dx 9 months ago & we are still trying to find medicine that works. In the meantime, we are slowly moving out of “temporary crisis” mode & becoming accepting of whatever each day brings. And focusing on what is right with life.

    This blog is my top spot online for inspiration and hope, RA Guy. You have indeed found very meaningful work. There are a lot of RA blogs out there… but for some reason, yours is the only one I consistently turn to. Thank you so much for your good works!

  3. Chelle says:

    Hello RA guy! I found your website after Toni Bernhard shared the link on her facebook support page.

    I am putting together a book of stories of people with chronic illness in the hope of raising awareness of how many millions are suffering silently and to hopefully help them see that there are positive things that come from living every day with pain.

    If you or anyone on your site would be interested in contributing, they can email me at chronicbook@gmail.com or check the submissions guidelines on my blog http://www.lifeonthedomesticfront.blogspot.com.

    I love your attitude and how you have found the positive in having to shift what you do every day. I also found that being fired from my job last October to be the best thing that ever happened to me because now I am home where I am comfortable, spending more time with my husband and children, and have discovered that I want a career as a writer.

    I hope you will consider contributing to this book project and any of your readers are welcome to contribute also.

    Hugs.

    Chelle
    http://www.lifeonthedomesticfront.blogspot.com

  4. Toni Bernhard says:

    I love your post. The quotation I put up is from the chapter in my book that’s on dukkha — or suffering/dissatisfaction — as it’s known in Buddhist philosophy. Joko Beck’s teachings help us see that everyone’s life has its share of joy and sorrow. There’s nothing wrong with our life just because we have health challenges.

    But you took her teachings and put such a wonderfully positive spin on it: this is your life and you’re ready to celebrate how it is right at this moment. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Toni

  5. Leigh says:

    What a wonderful post. As Dawn said above – the acceptance stage allows one the power to see that change is good and to see the silver linings in life. It COULD be worse, we are still at the best we can be and seeing the positive is hard, but mentally, once you’ve trained yourself to always see the good of where you are at this particular moment, then life goes on for you. I’m so glad that you’re still teaching, albeit in a different form. Isn’t it so fulfilling? You will continue to have fulfillment in your life despite the RA, the flares, the pain and the adjustments you have to make. Trust me, I know this personally.

    Leigh

  6. Donna says:

    Two of my beautiful granddaughters (3&2 & very active) were here to see me. I can’t get on the floor with them but I can take them for rides on the hover around. Fun fun

  7. Bernadine says:

    Due to a change in attitude, along with much support and lots of prayer, I was able to participate in our church’s local community mission trip. It meant spending a week with 60+ teens and adults lying on air mattresses and doing a variety of jobs. A few months ago I had all but given up hope of participating. My mind and heart were in it but my body was going through some new diagnoses and chronic fatigue was my newest enemy. I wanted to do at least one more with the teens I love so much. I talked to the woman who had choosen me to be my prayer partner for the month leading up to and through the week of our service. She had suffered from chronic health issues many years ago and prayed for strength for the week. I had a great week free of the chronic fatigue, even though I still dealt with pain throughout my body. I was able to work this week because of the support of some great adults and some teens that have watched my health deteriorate but yet were willing to help me with the things that limit me just to have me there by there side. This past week allowed me to see just how blessed I truly am. I don’t know what the future holds but I know that no matter what, I have an amazing support group by my side, even if they don’t quite understand all that is going on with me physically. The point is that as I’ve poured my life into theirs, they are now pouring it back into mine. I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world.

  8. Deb aka murphthesurf says:

    Sometimes we are taken down a different path from the one we thought we were destined to travel. Although I would not wish this illness on any soul, I am grateful to be traveling this journey together and with the many other bloggers I have come to know. You have indeed found your calling.

  9. Cathy says:

    RA Guy, thanks so much for sharing my post. Besides our love for blogging and connecting with others, we both share the desire to find the positive in every situation. That is why I always love coming to your blog. Even on your worst RA days you motivate me to keep learning about myself and growing. Thanks for being you! You are one of the many wonderful gifts RA has given me.

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