How My Pain And Disability Improved My Life

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!

17 Comments
17 comments
  1. Nikki says:

    Thanks for posting this! Very inspiring. I was recently forced into a leave of absence from my job and am now so thankful that I am not working. I decided after a few months off that I won’t go back. That job was way too physical for me and making my symptoms much worse. Now I am going to take care of myself and not worry about what is going to happen because things always work out somehow!

  2. Danae says:

    I feel you on that. I like the person I am now after going through what you go through as person with RA or some other chronic illness. I’ve become more compassionate, patient, considerate and able to better connect with people. All types of people. Altho, I must admit, I still want no parts of this illness. I still have a career dream/plan to be a Celebrity Make Up Artist/Educator and my faith in God keeps me. And reminds me that I will get there. I’m proud that I havent given in to the illness, while I am well aware of how bad my health really is. But I guess that’s why they call it Faith. …and this too shall pass.

  3. Tina Tarbox says:

    This article really resonates with me. RA has prompted me to make many decisions that at the time I didn’t necessarily like or appreciate, but in hindsight, they were the best possible choices for me and led me to far more joy than I would have experienced otherwise (including leaving the corporate world behind). Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  4. WSL says:

    Interesting… I actually believe a similar kind of job (which I did not have the courage to leave, unfortunately) may have triggered my R.A. Of course, I cannot prove that–but I started experiencing chronic pain within months of taking the job. I wonder if your job, even though you left it, had anything to do with your R.A.?

  5. Peter says:

    Thank you, this post also resonated with me. I wrote a post awhile back about gratitude for chronic illness and I think this helps sum that up for me.

  6. KellyRH says:

    RA Guy..this was so beautifully said “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.” As I am new to RA the meds messing with me, the RA is reining supreme and I can’t help but wonder what my future has in store. I am determined to make choices that lead me to a better, happier and more joyous state. Thanks to your story, I now know this is achieveable. Thanks for the inspiration and Happy Birthday!!

  7. Sunshine says:

    I love hearing the positive, post-diagnosis, chronic illness stories. It’s incredible thing to navigate from devastation to gratitude and happiness. In many cases I am certain individuals don’t believe there is life after illness.
    You are the shining example that there is much to look forward to when you look beyond your illness. Congratulations on the milestone(s), and thank you for what you have given to the RA and chronic illness community: hope.
    XXOO
    Sunshine

  8. Shan says:

    Yes, we are the chosen ones. Once we understand that Art is here to offer us different experiences in life, the sooner the mental aspect of the condition decreases. There is no doubting that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having Art in my life for 34 years – and I’m only 36! Love Shan xo

  9. Sharon wickham says:

    How interesting! I took a full education and left it unused due to many reasons but lifes twist and turns now have me with PsA in a full time job that I feel incapable of leaving. I need the income and the insurance. I often wonder how long I will be able to keep it up. It is possible you could have found yourself in such a situation. Congratulations for taking this path! Thank you for the window into the journey. Sharon

  10. Ricardo Torres says:

    Wow. Thanks. I am currently in the process of doing just that. Your story is so similar to mine I couldn’t believe my eyes. Left the US just 5 months ago and I’m seeing things so differently here in the Caribbean after a “great” life in the US and corporate America. But this simpler life is becoming more rewarding each day. Very similar story. Thanks!

  11. HayWire0831 says:

    Wow. Trust me, you made the right decision!!! I’ve consistently dreamed of quitting the job I have now, a corporate one, with insurance which still costs me about $5K/year for treatment, and moving to Cabo San Lucas. Living on the beach and letting the pure, every day relaxation contribute to my treatment just as much as medication. I do envy you. Since my husband and I have a 6 year old son and my son’s granddad lives, literally, right down the street from us (6 houses to be exact), it seems that taking him away from what little extended family he has is just cruel. My parents are both gone, so he never knew them. I’m getting a little off topic, but I just had to assure you that you made the right decision. Sanity is DEFINITELY worth more than money. I’m working on my sanity right now by going to college and changing careers completely. It will take time and I just hope my RA stays enough at bay to let me do this. Thanks for the inspiration, as always.

  12. Squirrel says:

    Happy Birthday! I was in the Andes in Peru a couple of weeks ago on holiday – a beautiful place. I’m not surprised you chose to stay. Wishing you well.

  13. Joni says:

    Wow! Cheers to you for putting a positive spin on your situation! I also live outside of the U.S. and have for about five years now. I am a teacher with a passion for travel. I’ve found that I can teach half the amount of hours I would in the U.S. and have a better quality of life abroad. :-) It’s all about how we play the cards we’ve been dealt. RA has taught me patience and compassion. I appreciate every good day I have. Keep up the good work! I really enjoy your blog!

  14. Tyna says:

    your blog is inspiring, I have had ra for 7 yrs now, believe me I have had my lows where i just wanted to give up, but with the support of a wonderful husband and family and a good doctor that truely care I am on my way back to my life. People like you are a great inspiration.

  15. Kate says:

    I noticed that RA’rs have a unique view on life – you learn to appreciate the tiniest of things, like picking up a cup of tea – and that CAN make you happy. Most people take everything for granted, their joints….
    And what you’ve done is another part of that – once you have RA, you let yourself accommodate it and you and do things you wouldn’t have done without it, like move to another country or another climate. It is an extra (and a strong one) excuse to change something because YOU want to, and YOU deserve

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