Nine years ago tomorrow–on the day that I turned 30–I submitted a letter of resignation to my manager. My roaring twenties were over, and I could not be happier. By all practical purposes, the previous decade had been filled with many different successes: I graduated from Columbia, I graduated from Harvard, and only a few years later, I was earning more money from my corporate job than I could have ever imagined.
When I walked away from that job, not knowing what my immediate future had in store for me, the thing that surprised me the most was the private response that I received from many of my co-workers: they would pull me aside, and whisper to me that they wished they had the courage to do the same thing. Yes, I know it was slightly unnerving to be jumping into the unknown…but the way I saw it at the time, I was moving away from what a world that I knew was not for me…and as long as I framed my decisions in this way, I knew that everything would be okay.
I was leaving an environment where backstabbing was the norm, and where innovative ideas were something to be shot down, and not supported. I was leaving a job that required me to work in a climate-controlled building, where one could not even crack open a window and enjoy a slight breeze. I was leaving a life that required me to spend two hours each day (minimum) in my car, driving to and from the office.
Within a year (seven months later, to be exact) my partner and I had packed our things and moved to South America, with our dogs on tow. Based upon the lowered cost of living, our savings would easily last at least two years. For someone who previously longed for a slight breeze during the day, being able to enjoy the winds two miles up in the sky on top of the Andes mountains was one of the best things ever. We told ourselves that at the end of two years, we’d re-evaluate our options and decide what to do next. In the meantime, I was going to start studying some of the local stone and adobe architecture, which fascinated me to no end.
And right around this time, rheumatoid arthritis entered into my life. (Looking back I can now see that the initial signs actually started a few years earlier when I was still in the U.S., but I didn’t know it at the time.) Even though I didn’t have either insurance or a steady income, I still remember thinking–during those initial few months–how glad I was that I no longer had to go into an office every morning. (Which, based upon my condition, would have basically been impossible.)
And upon receiving my diagnosis, and being told that my treatment plan would primarily involve medications–medications which I could purchase for a fraction of what they cost in the U.S.–I felt like this was a blessing in disguise. A lot of people who I had met soon after moving here assumed that I would immediately return to the U.S. for treatment…but going back to the U.S. for something that I could receive here at a much lower cost seemed slightly counter-intuitive. So I stayed.
I often think back, and wonder how much different my life might have been had I not stepped away from my corporate job or left the U.S. right before RA (at least during the initial years) took over my life. It’s not that I’m second-guessing any of the decisions I made; in fact, I think that things would have been even more challenging had this disease entered my life while I was still in the corporate world or in the extremely expensive U.S. healthcare system. In the end, I don’t really know.
What I do know, however, as I near the end of my 30’s, is that I am happier than I have ever been before…and I think that a lot of decisions I made almost ten years ago, before I even knew what rheumatoid arthritis was, have played a critical role in allowing me to reach this point.
As I look at the successes that I’ve achieved over the past decade–as private and personal as many of them have been–I’m beginning to feel that my more ‘public’ achievements during my 20’s pale in comparison. One more thing that I didn’t realize at the time, but can now see with the help of hindsight: when rheumatoid arthritis entered my life, I had a choice. I could either allow it to make me angry, bitter, and sad. Or, I could figure out a way for it to improve my life, and to make me even more happy.
I originally started down the former path, but ended up on the latter after I (surprise!) saw that things weren’t working out as I wanted them to. And this, without a doubt, will always rank high on my list of achievements. I sometimes used to think that my life would have been so much better without RA. Now, I can’t even imagine where I would have been without it. I know this may strike some people as being an odd sentiment…but for me, it makes all of the sense in the world.
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!