My little corner of the world, down here in South America, is quite different from the United States (where I lived most of my life, up until eight years ago.)
First of all, it’s very social. (We put Spain to shame, in my opinion.) Events can take place any night of the week, and when they do it’s not uncommon for them to run into the early hours of the morning. Unannounced visitors are welcomed with open arms, and are accommodated no matter what the host’s original plans might have been. (As an American who was used to planning everything with at least two weeks notice, the ‘unannounced’ part originally took quite a lot of getting used to…but now I, like everyone else, enjoy it.) Invitations to major events (weddings, birthday parties, baptisms, etc.) are often delivered only days (and yes, sometimes hours!) in advance. How could this possibly work in terms of scheduling, you might ask? Well, depending upon the importance of the event, and the closeness of your relationship with the other person, let’s just say that the resultant rescheduling of a person’s entire Saturday is often accomplished without missing a beat. (Told you it was different!)
So, when I first moved here, seeing all of this was initially quite exciting in terms of learning about a new culture and all. (Mind you, I was only exhibiting–unknowingly, of course–very initial signs of rheumatoid arthritis at this time.) And I went with the flow, as I struggled to figure out how to juggle unexpected Saturday morning visitors with Friday evenings friends who didn’t stop talking until the sun rose. (And no, I’m not making this up.) So after a while, from the perspective of an American who was used to scheduling everything way in advance (Save the Date!), it all became too much to handle. Keeping up with all of this socializing seemed like a job in itself! I just wasn’t used to this culture. What, the doorbell is ringing? Don’t make a sound, and pretend like we’re not home!
And right around this time, my RA decided to have its coming out party. (My actual diagnosis, alas, was still somewhere a couple of years down the road.) Sure, it definitely was a crisis moment in my life…but at least I now had the perfect excuse to stop socializing: I was in too much pain. After a while, this became a mantra as I turned down one invitation after another. It was true; I was actually in what seemed to be too much pain. So, in a way, I was happy about not having to socialize so much (or so I thought.)
As the pain worsened, as I eventually got my diagnosis (at least I finally know what wrong…but what do you mean this is for life?!), as my knees atrophied, as I had to learn how to walk again, the depression grew. Eventually, it took hold.
Which was still okay, in a weird sort of way, because the absolute last thing I wanted to do now that I was in too much pain and was extremely depressed was to socialize.
But over the past few years, as I’ve reversed course (positively) in so many ways, I’ve once again come to embrace socializing, and have incorporated it back into my life. Sure, I don’t practice it to the full extent that many people here normally do (there is, after all, still some American in me!), but I’ve once again come to actually enjoy it, even–and especially–if I’m in flare. It’s nice to spend the evening talking with good friends, or being invited to another person’s home for dinner on what would have normally been a weeknight spent in bed streaming television channels from the U.S. [Note to self: be sure to record tonight's finale of Top Chef Just Desserts.] And yes, even if I’m a host, and I have to put in slightly more effort around the house in order to entertain visitors, I’m still happy to socialize. All of these moment with others are not just opportunities to strengthen and rekindle relationships and friendships, but they’re also opportunities where I can enjoy good conversation, food, and drink, and–if even for only for brief moment of time–can temporarily take my mind off the pain and disability.
This evening, we’ve been invited to dinner at a friend’s house. Even though I’m flaring, we’re going (I never even doubted not going.) We’ll have a nice bottle of Spanish Grand Reserve Rioja wine in hand, as well as a roasted potato omelette with blue cheese and caramalized onions that I whipped up yesterday afternoon (also, while I was in a flare.)
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!