“True RA Christmas Facts: Did you know that gingerbread men are really just stick figures on prednisone?” —RA Guy
Around ten years ago, I started the tradition of baking gingerbread men in the days leading up to Christmas. Not only do I love anything that includes the flavors of ginger, cinnamon, and clove mixed together, but I also really like the thin lines of royal icing that add just an extra little touch of sweetness to the cookies.
As my rheumatoid arthritis continued to progress over the past few years, however, the first thing that I removed from my holiday to-do list was the baking of these cookies. Sure, I missed them (and store bought versions will never be able to replace the homemade kind,) but I just felt too tired all the time. And the last thing I wanted to do was stand on my feet, and use my hands any more than absolutely necessary.
Over this past year, though, even as I’ve slowed down drastically, I’ve actually found ways to do even more than I’m used to doing. For me, the secret comes down to breaking up ‘large’ tasks into numerous ‘smaller’ tasks, to be completed over a period of days or weeks. (Seemingly so simple, but such a hard lesson to actually learn.)
And by following this new-found secret, this year I once again find myself making gingerbread men. Instead of doing it all in one day, as I previously did, I’m now spreading this activity out over three days. Today I made the dough. (Two batches are currently chilling in the refrigerator!) Tomorrow, I’m going to bake the cookies. And on Friday, I’m going to frost them…just in time for Christmas Eve.
Every time I make gingerbread cookies, I’m taken back to first grade. Having just read the story of the gingerbread man, we went to the kitchen/activity room in the elementary school in order to mix up a batch of cookie dough. Each one of us cut out a cookie, decorated it with raisins, and placed it on the cooking sheet. As soon as everything was in the oven, we went back to the classroom to wait the few minutes that were required for the cookies to bake.
Any good educator or parent probably should know what happened next. When we returned to the kitchen and peeked into the ovens, all of the cookies were gone! Where did they go, our teacher asked. A person who just “happened” to be walking by the door stuck his head into the room, and told us that he had just seen a bunch of gingerbread men running down the hallway a few minutes earlier.
Instead of questioning the reality of such a thing, all of our imaginations took over. We were so excited, and really believed that the cookies had run away. I still remember thinking that if we had only gotten there a couple of minutes earlier, we would have been able to see them running with our own eyes. After searching around the school for our cookies, we finally found them in a safely collected in a box in the principal’s office.
Rheumatoid arthritis used to bring so much negativity into my life, and often seemed to rob me of the activities that I enjoyed the most. As I look back at those moments of pure happiness when I was a little kid, envisioning the gingerbread men running away, I’m reminded of the important role that imagination continues to play in my life.
I no longer imagine a life without pain, as I once used to. (I just don’t find such thoughts to be helpful anymore.) But I do envision myself doing all of the (abandoned) activities that once bought so much joy into my life. I may not always be able to do these things exactly how I used to…but with a little adaptation here and there, I’m discovering that I can actually do much more than I previously thought was possible, without pushing my body past its limits.
All it takes…is a little imagination.
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!
December 23, 2011: Three days later, and five dozen gingerbread men are done!