This week, Daniel tells us about one of his recent fears, and how it has been affecting his life. He also describes how an event he attended this past weekend has begun to change his point of view, and made that fear start to recede. It is a fear many of us have had, and many more will have some day. See how Daniel is dealing with it, and hopefully learn a thing or two yourself.

Most times when I write this column, I have some sage-like advice to impart to those of you who honor me by reading my words. Usually these lessons I speak about have been learned over years and years of dealing with the trials and tribulations of living with Rheumatoid Arthritis. It always touches me when someone writes in to tell me how much they enjoyed reading my work, and how much better they feel knowing that there is at least one other person on this Earth who is feeling the same emotions as they are. Lately, though, I have been in need of a helping hand myself. One particular issue plaguing me has weighed upon my mind during many a sleepless night. Until this past weekend, that is.

Lately, I’ve been having trouble dealing with mortality. My own mortality, to be more specific. The more I think about the time I have left on this Earth, the more nervous I get. Why? Because I sense a fundamental change in my life coming in the very near future, and changes like that have always scared me. Passing from one stage of my life into the next is regularly a difficult time for me, but this transition is proving especially troublesome.

Right now, I’m just starting to consider the ramifications of sharing my life with someone else, and contemplating the different burdens that will be placed upon this particular someone. Physically, my relationship is always going to be lopsided towards my partner, and that can take a serious toll on any relationship. The implications of sharing physical labor duties are not of paramount concern to me, though. What I truly fear is that all the medications I have taken over the past 25 years have somehow shortened my life expectancy.

When I was originally diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, there were very few treatments available. Most of the drugs used to combat the symptoms of my illness were the same drugs used to give relief to Osteoarthritis patients. Aspirin was the drug of choice for years before it was deemed too ineffective to be worth the risk to my liver and stomach. Since that time, I have taken almost every single drug available for Rheumatoid Arthritis, as well as a few that were designed to fight cancer. Some of these drugs are serious poisons that have never been fully studied to determine the long-term effects of their use.

As if the high doses of potentially damaging drugs weren’t enough, there are also all the medical procedures that I’ve had to endure. Throughout the years, I have been subjected to countless X-rays, MRI scans, CT scans, and a few other scans that didn’t even have names. On three occasions, I have had radioactive material injected into my bloodstream, and twice I have been forced to drink similarly radioactive brown liquid. The dosages of radiation in all those cases are minuscule, but it must begin to add up at some point. If you also consider the slew of major operations I have had, then you will see just how much torture my body has undergone.

This is the reason why I am having trouble sleeping. After my girlfriend begins to slumber, I lie awake and wonder just how long I have left. Since her and I have just started our journey together, we want to have as many years as possible left to plan and enjoy our future together. If I end this life at sixty or sixty-five years old because my body has been beaten up for most of those years, then there’s a chance that I will leave her and any children I have had alone for many years after my demise. It’s a morbid thought, but it comes to me at least a few nights every week. I’m convinced I have only a short time left to accomplish all that I’ve promised myself I would, and I’m just not sure I’ll be able to get it all done.

I think part of the reason that these fears have become so prevalent lately is because I know that the “single guy” part of my life is reaching its penultimate encore. There will be no more hope of meeting single girls at evening functions, no more concern over not having a date for an event, and no more careless, fancy-free lifestyle that only effects one person. That’s not to say I miss it – I’m very happy where I am now. It’s just a fairly drastic change – one of the biggest in any guy’s life, and this type of change is my least favorite. I despise endings, and saying farewell to the part of my life that I have been living for the past twenty years is frightening.

This all changed this past weekend, or, at least, I feel a change beginning. I attended a wedding this past Saturday. I knew many of the guests, but what I really took notice of was some of the older couples who I spoke with. I asked as many as I could about their lives, and how they enjoyed being parents and grandparents. All their stories were different, of course, but they had a common theme. Every single one of the couples talked of parenthood and marriage as if they wouldn’t trade it for all the tea in China. Yes, marriage is work, they told me, but the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. The way they spoke about their children, their grandchildren, and the way they reminisced about the adventures they had while raising those children, I was truly inspired. I knew then and there that it was indeed time to say goodbye to the past, and take the next step forward, however difficult it might seem.

So, as is often the case, a lesson about Rheumatoid Arthritis can be applied to life at large. I have been afraid of what my disease will mean to the next stage in my life, and I have been dreading the consequences of committing to taking that step. Seeing the happy couples of all ages this weekend gave me the reminder I needed, though. We all have such a short time on this Earth and no one knows his or her exact checkout time. So, instead of spending your time counting days, spend your time making days count. Or, at least, that’s the lesson I’m trying to heed. Time will tell just how difficult it will be, but I’m going to give it the old college try.