I’m not a big fan of superlatives, and rarely feel the need to always have to compare one thing to another (first, best, biggest, only, etc.), but I must admit that there are instances when it becomes necessary to use certain qualifiers, in order to better understand the item that is under inspection. So as I look back at my most recent flare–a flare from which I am still emerging–I can say, without a doubt, that it was my “worst” flare to date.
Why do I say so?
For days on end, I had absolutely no idea how I was still able to move. Honestly. I know–and live–the whole “mind over matter” thing, and remind myself as much on a daily basis. This is an absolute necessity, when one lives with chronic pain and disability. Over the past few days, though, I really had no idea how I was able to move…even as I, somehow, continued to do so.
In the past, it’s always taken weeks–if not months–to fall into a flare as severe as this one. This time around, it took just a matter of days. And during previous flares, I’ve usually topped out at two major peaks of disease activity, during my days of continuous pain and inflammation. During this flare, I entered into the unfamiliar territory of having three major peaks each day…just as I was coming out of one crisis, I was almost immediately going back into another one.
I think we’re all familiar with the snapping and cracking sounds that are constantly emitted from our arthritic joints, but never before had my bones produced entire musical scores that were almost as long as Beethoven’s third symphony. Even after I’d stop moving my right shoulder, it would still–almost magically–continue making sounds…and if I’d take a drink of water, my jaw would rattle for the entire duration. (And silly me, all I could think was that these sound effects would be so cool two weeks from now, on Halloween!)
When I finally got around to calling my rheumatologist Monday morning–a few days before having mistakenly thought that I could go at least another week without having to see him–my life had become a complete blur, with a few moments of clarity here and there. I really do think he lost count of the number of inflammed joints in my body (or maybe after a certain point, a specific number doesn’t even matter anymore)…and the time it took him to jot down notes after my physical evaluation, which usually takes just a few seconds, ended up taking minutes.
But despite all of the above, I’m reluctant to label this flare as my worst yet. In a weird sort of way, I actually consider it to be my best flare to date. “Best” and “flare,” how can these two words be used in the same sentence, especially from someone who doesn’t even like superlatives in the first place, you might be asking? Well, let me explain.
This was the first major flare that I’ve gotten through without an anxiety attack. (Enough said!)
I used every second of this flare to try to learn something, not only about the pain but also about myself. Instead of staying in bed and getting depressed, I decided to dress up and go out to a nice dinner. Instead of crying (and don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is anything wrong with crying…in fact, I think it’s one of the best ways to work through certain emotions), I decided to smile and laugh…as much as I possibly could.
Whenever there was something that I could not do, I reminded myself that there was something else that I could do. When even holding my 7″ tablet to read became too painful, I listened to music…and I didn’t just listen to music that I already knew. I decided to explore something new. (And this is how, over the past week, I listened to more Jazz music than I’ve probably ever listened to in my entire life!)
I managed my expectations well. Even on Monday, after I received my corticosteroid injection, I continued to spiral downwards. I wanted to relief right then and there, but I had to remind myself that my doctor said it would take 24-48 hours to take effect. And sure enough, the worst of my flare started to subside the following day. And as I sit here two days later feeling an entirely different type of pain–the destruction that this latest flare inflicted on my body–I know that it’s going to take time to get back to where I was just a few days ago. So I’m giving myself an entire month, to rest and recover. I didn’t get here overnight, and I’m not going to get out overnight. I’m going to manage my expectations accordingly.
And during the most challenging moments of my recent crisis, I knew where to turn to for help and support, and did so without hesitation. Sometimes it was matter of making a phone call, or requesting a hug here at home, or posting something on my Facebook wall. Whatever it was, it all fell under the realm of not only knowing that I needed help, but also knowing that it was okay to ask for this help…and realizing that I was surrounded by more people than I could have ever previously imagined, who were waiting and ready to offer a helping hand and some kind words of support and encouragement.
And this is how my “worst” flare became my “best” flare ever.
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!