It’s almost eight years since I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and then fibromyalgia. Over this time, I’ve had low days where I struggled to step up on a curb or get off a sofa — but I’ve also had many highs. I found the courage to leave a bad and very stressful relationship, lose 50 pounds, graduate from college, and start a career.
I even surprised myself by coming to be at peace with my diseases. Or at least, I thought.
For me, being at peace with my diseases does *not* mean I don’t get scared or frustrated or upset when my ability to function decreases. My emotions and my reality are very raw. It *does* mean that I know I will flare, and when I do, I try not to get angry with my body or myself.
I try to accept that my body is telling me what it needs and then comply. I have stopped fighting the undulating curves of my disease activity and I try to accept it for what it is — an intense and unpredictable ride. I tell myself it is what it is.
It is my reality and I do not hate it.
Then I Had This Damn Dream
One night about a month ago, I dreamt that I was hiking and camping along a river in Colorado in a competition. Everyone was in groups trying to whitewater raft down the river and finish first. In my dream I experienced day and night, sleeping in a tent, being tired from hiking, and getting wet from rain. I had highs and lows and it was amazing.
What I did not have was pain or diseases of any kind. I was just myself in this dream — the self that existed before my diagnosis. I was my young and vibrant self, and I could run circles around people 10 years younger. I was my happy and excited healthy self, traveling in the woods and floating on the river and experiencing the outdoors in a way that I dearly miss.
Then I Woke Up
When I opened my eyes I did not recognize my bedroom. My dream had been so real that it took several minutes before I understood why I was so stiff and why I had pain in my body in so many places. It was a crushing realization after the respite from my dream.
When it became clear it was a dream I hit an emotional low, a low I had never experienced over the course of my diseases.
And trust me, I have been low over the years, struggling with anxiety and depression my whole life and then a panic attack after I was first diagnosed. The torment of slowly waking up to a disease-riddled body that was not pain free and not in the wilderness was almost more than I could bear.
That morning there was no being at peace with my disease. The hate for my body and myself swelled like heat in my chest, tingled over my ribs, and vibrated with each breath. I could feel the depth of loss in the air as I rolled over and closed my eyes, wishing I were still in those woods in that tent.
These feelings lasted for days.
Intense anger sprang up and grabbed me around the throat. I struggled to contain loathing and disgust. I wanted that dream — and not my reality. I wanted to be pain free. I wanted to wake up and bounce out of bed. I wanted the joy of being outside and in a tent and loving the thrilling, refreshing quiet.
Then after bottoming out, I shifted gears. I made some choices. I chose to focus on the good things happening in my life. I chose to examine the horrible feelings I was feeling. I chose not to judge myself.
I Chose to Let Go of the Dream
I began talking to myself in a mantra. I began to repeat that I forgave myself and began to relax my grip on the chasm of pain that separated me from the reality of that dream. I began to forgive so I could continue to live the best life possible for me. I began to hate myself less.
I will be joining a gym to swim soon. Water is meditative and resets me. I will be purchasing a bicycle so I can ride the trails with my girlfriend. My life may not be pain free, but it is my life and no pain or disease can take it away from me. I will live and breathe and love my broken body despite the chaos of disease.
I will be at peace — again — with my diseases.
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