I have about a dozen memories from a very young age that I’m able to recall with such clarity, that it almost feels like these events took place just a few minutes ago. One of them was having my first grade teacher read a story to the class, as she held up the book over her shoulder for everyone to see. This was back in the 1970’s, before commercial cartoon characters had taken over many children’s books. Instead, we were treated to classical myths and timeless storylines, set against a backdrop of beautiful visual images which were printed on museum-quality paper; these books were indeed fine works of art.
And in this instance, I still remember the brightly colored feathers, the big burning sun, and the graceful patterns of motion swooping against the blue sky. By now some of you may already recognize the story that was being told to us; we were reading about the legend of Icarus.
Icarus: Son of Daedalus who dared to fly too near the sun on wings of feathers and wax. Daedalus had been imprisoned by King Minos of Crete within the walls of his own invention, the Labyrinth. But the great craftsman’s genius would not suffer captivity. He made two pairs of wings by adhering feathers to a wooden frame with wax. Giving one pair to his son, he cautioned him that flying too near the sun would cause the wax to melt. But Icarus became ecstatic with the ability to fly and forgot his father’s warning. The feathers came loose and Icarus plunged to his death in the sea. —Encyclopedia of Greek Mythology
I find it telling that this is one of my few childhood memories that still stands out clearly in my mind. On many occasions over the past few years–after I once again pushed myself too hard against my illness, only to fall back even further into the pain and sadness–I have been transported back to that moment when I was a young kid sitting on the classroom floor, mesmerized by the images that were being shown and the words that were being spoken. I was struck by the irony: when I was only a few years old, I completely understood the moral of the story; as a grown adult, I refused to accept what actually made so much sense.
I think that my reaction of “I’m not going to let my chronic illness change me one bit,” in the year or two after the shock of my initial diagnosis wore off, was a pretty normal reaction–at the time. I’ve since learned a new reality, though. My rheumatoid arthritis *is* going to change me, in more ways that I could have ever imagined. This is beyond my control, and by not accepting this I’m definitely not making things any easier for myself.
It’s up to me, however, to decide if my chronic illness will change me for the better, or for the worse. Certain changes will always beyond my control, but how I react to them is something that will always remain within my control. Realizing that the answer to this question–change for the better or change for the worse?–is indeed within my control only serves to remind me how much I, and not my illness, am in charge of my life.
Over the past few months, I’ve started to experience the beauty (and improved health!) that results from not bumping up against my limits. I intentionally break down any size project into smaller parts, to be accomplished over a matter of days or sometimes even weeks. I use periods when my disease activity is lowered not to go out and do everything that I had previously been unable to do, but instead to just relax, and rest even more. At any one moment it may seem that I’m doing much less than I once used to be able to do, but as a whole it’s clearly obvious that I’m actually doing more than ever before.
And this lesson, which I first heard decades ago when I was a bright eyed kid sitting in front of my first grade teacher, is finally being driven home to me today. The more I respect certain limits, the longer I’ll be able to fly. And the longer I’m able to fly without crashing, the happier and healthier I’ll be.
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!