I used to think that accepting the reality of my rheumatoid arthritis meant that I would be giving in to this disease.
As long as I grabbed on to the life that I wanted (thus avoiding what was obviously becoming the life that I had), I figured that I would be okay. For a while this actually seemed to work, and I thought I was happy. But as my RA continued to progress, I became more miserable, and less able to cope with what was happening to both my body and my mind.
The idea of failure has such a negative connotation, that I think most of us rarely want to admit that it plays any role in our lives. I think that sometimes it’s easy to forget that we often get to the place we need to be, as a result of having visited in the past many places that were not good for us. For me, this has definitely been the case when it comes to my ability to cope with my illness, and I have no shame in admitting as much.
You see, for me the mistake was–even though I didn’t see it at the time–basing all of my coping mechanisms on one false premise, which was the thought that the pain would actually, one day, go away. Everything I did, and everything I thought, fell under the hope that just as quickly as this disease entered my life, it would just as quickly exit. And if today wasn’t the day, then tomorrow definitely would be.
And looking back, what I did, for years on end, was to inevitably set myself up for failure, each and every day. When I woke up, and the pain was still there, I would feel like I had lost yet another battle…and it got to the point where I started to wonder that if each new day was immediately going to be chalked up as a loss, what was the point of living this type of life?
My biggest breakthrough into the world of acceptance came on a day, around a year and a half ago, that I still remember quite clearly. I was in one of my worst extended flares to date. I could barely stand up, much less move. I had started resorting to peeing in a cup. I was using what little physical strength and energy I had to go see my rheumatologist, or to go to the local clinic for yet another anti-inflammatory injection. And as I got through each and every minute, there was one thought that permanently remained in my head:
Things have to get better tomorrow.
(Once again, setting myself up for failure.)
One day, though, something clicked. Instead of constantly telling myself that things had to get better the following day, I found myself asking: what if they don’t? And instead of feeling frightened out of my wits by such a possibility, I told myself that I needed to start preparing myself–physically and emotionally–should this be the case.
And this was the exact moment when I entered into my own Alice-in-Wonderland-like wormhole, and passed from the land of denial into the world of reality.
I’ve stayed here ever since, and it’s been absolutely wonderful. It hasn’t slowed the progression of my disease, but it has allowed me to cope better than I previously ever could. A while back I shared on a Facebook status that for me, a positive attitude doesn’t mean that I hope the pain will go away; instead it means that I hope that I will be able to cope with the pain even better. My life, and my outlook, have improved drastically since I adopted this philosophy.
I have not lost hope, and I have not given in to my disease. What I have done, however, is base my thoughts and my actions upon a premise that does not set me up for failure with each new day. I no longer wonder if the pain will be gone when I wake up in the morning. I *know* it will be there, and I’m okay with this. Most importantly, I’m prepared for this. (And on those rare days when I wake up not feeling pain, I appreciate it for the beautiful–albeit temporary–gift that this is.)
Many people write to me, to say that they wish they were able to cope with living with chronic illness as well as I seem to be able to do, and that they want to be able to have the same positive attitude that I express in many of my posts. But, they go on to share, their lives seem to be full of so many different failures, that they don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to keep moving forward.
I write these words today to share the following: were in not for the fact that I experienced so many failures myself, when it came to coping with the continual daily challenges of living with chronic pain and disability, I don’t think I would have ever been able to find the comfortable and peaceful spot where I currently am; a place that is still marked by pain and disability, but that is also full of reality, happiness, acceptance, and hope.
Each time I receive one of these messages, like those that I describe above, I secretly smile to myself. I smile, not because I know that someone out there is struggling, but because I know that soon there will be one more person who passes through this wormhole, into this “alternate” reality of acceptance that I have only recently discovered myself: a world where our diseases no longer hold us back, but only continue to push us forward, into a brighter and better future!
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!