Okay, so while I would never intentionally welcome back increased levels of pain and disability on the path to Flareville (an interesting bit of trivia: a city with this name, derived from Flehwroken, actually exists in the country of Liberia), I figure that I might as well make the most of it, especially since their eventual return are somewhat inevitable.
And this is what I thought to myself late last night, as a shroud of pain once again wrapped itself tightly around my body. Over the past year, I’ve learned a very important lesson which I continue to put into practice: when the pain and disability seem to be taking over my mind and my body, I must use such a moment as an opportunity. This might seem odd to some people, I know…an opportunity, you ask? But for me, at least, each occurrence of painful symptoms, each flare, is indeed an opportunity. Not only is it a chance to get to know my body even better, but–and even more importantly–it’s a time to try to figure out which coping skills are helping me, and which coping skills aren’t. I then make it a point to strengthen the former, and eliminate the latter.
And after two months during which my symptoms and pain levels were quite low, instead of feeling anxious or scared about what was happening, I instead found myself taking lots and lots of mental notes. And yes, I did notice Fear lurking there in a shadowy corner, just waiting to be fed, hoping to take charge of the situation…but last night I recognized its presence, and then told it to get used to staying in the corner. I was no longer going to feed its ego, as I’ve so often done in the past.
What I focused on, instead, were the immediate feelings of isolation that I was experiencing. Like those movies where the physical space between two places is visually stretched apart, quite often that’s what if feels like when I’m experiencing some of the worst pain of rheumatoid arthritis; I’m on one end of this silly-putty universe, and the rest of the world is on the other end. And then, as it became more and more difficult to even connect with my own thoughts, as the pain greedily continued to demand all of my attention, I finally began to realize where these feelings of isolation came from. Yes, I was feeling disconnected from the rest of the world, but the underlying truth was that I was feeling disconnected from myself.
And just like that, I had my reward. All I had to do was stay connected with my thoughts, and stay connected with myself. I could not let fear, anxiety, or isolation take over. I recognized, and knew, what was going on in my body. I was calm, and I was at peace. And eventually, I drifted off to sleep.
And this latest lesson on staying connected, which went from “easier said than done”–before it was learned, to “oh, that was easy”–after it was learned, might have eventually happened somewhere down the road, but it would certainly not have taken place last night, had I not decided not approach the arrival of this latest flare with a sense of opportunity.
Over the past couple of months, as I announced each new flare-free week on Facebook and Twitter, I started to wonder what feelings of defeat I might experience, when this streak finally came to an end. Well, this happened last night…and I’m happy to share that I don’t feel the least bit defeated. In fact, I feel stronger, and more prepared, than ever before. Sure, I’d love to continue to not be in a flare…but learning to cope even better while I’m in the midst of a flare…well, this is a wonderful consolation prize that I’ll never turn down!
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy