This past week I spent time in my old college town, also known as New York City. This visit was originally supposed to cap my extended visit here in the United States, but after my mother had a stoke earlier this summer, I changed my travel plans and pushed my return trip back to the end of August. By the time I return home in a few weeks, I will have been away for a total of three months and three days.
The other day I was telling a close friend that this will always be “the time I traveled non-stop for the entire summer and lived out of a suitcase.” What I didn’t say at the time, but was thinking to myself, was that this will also always be the time that I firmly feel like I’ve gained the upper hand when it comes to living with rheumatoid arthritis…and if there is such a thing as “conquering” this disease, I feel like I have done so.
Strong words, coming from a person who was (once again) almost completely immobilized by a sudden flare just a few short days ago. I can say, however, that I have truly learned that the secret of success has nothing to do with the presence and frequency of my RA symptoms (although learning how to minimize them, even slightly, is very important), and has everything to do with how I cope with the pain and disability.
I’ve learned that even when I have little control over my body, I have complete and absolute control over my mind. I’ve said before that due to the chronic pain, I always feel like I am just sixty seconds away from a major panic attack. In a way this is true, as I have–on many occasions–experienced firsthand the absolutely frightening downward spiral that is prompted by a thought such as “this pain is never going to go away.”
I’ve also learned that even though the pain is constant, as are the corresponding pangs of fear, so too is my ability to stay calm, and to stay relaxed.
A few weeks ago, my 20 year old niece was asked to go upstairs and check on me, as I lay in bed in the midst of a major flare. I didn’t know she had done so until we were talking over lunch the next day. I was telling her that the previous day’s flare was one of the strongest that I had experienced in months, when she responded that she knew; she could see the pain in my body and in my face when she had gone up to check on me the day before.
She also told me that she doesn’t know how I do it; that is, live with the constant pain.
I was a little taken aback…not because the her words made me feel uncomfortable in any way, but because I realized that I didn’t have a good answer to the question.
Because to be honest, I myself don’t really know how I live with this pain all of the time. I just know that I do.
And while it does continually feel like I’m only just a minute away from a complete meltdown, I also know that I’m also just a minute away from another minute of life, another minute of continued happiness.
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!