Life has been a bit overwhelming lately. Although in the last month I have felt some of my greatest joys, I have been punched, kicked, and socker-boppered–I have been flattened.

The beginning of February brought my twenty first birthday. I can no longer count my age on four hands. It was a bit surreal to hit twenty-one, but at the same time I felt as though my life experiences would have added up to make me out to be a bit older (not that I wish I was).

Juliecake

Daddy’s Chocolate Cake (om nom nom)

The birth-weekend celebrations consisted of a trip to Island Park with some of mine and my husband Jake’s closest friends. We spent a lot of time in the snow, played games on games, and stayed up late talking and laughing. If I could have videoed some of the stories that were told and shared, they would be viral at this point.

Island Park is high in elevation, making my joints more angry than normal, but Island Park is also the escape of my dreams–forest, mountains, cozy cabin. I love it, therefore I can take on the increased joint pain. I’m thankful for all the love I received on my birthday. I was privileged to spend an evening with my in-laws and celebrate with fun games (ever played spike ball?) and delicious Rice Krispie treats, and then have my parents take us to dinner the following night. I am overwhelmed with how much love I have surrounding me, and I pray I will never lose sight of that.

February also brought on the slum of the school days. I am a Junior in college, studying public health, and feeling completely lost in what I am doing at times. I try my hardest to balance school, work, and my health but sometimes they all end up going out the window.

My weekly schedule consists of Mondays and Wednesdays at home with one campus class in the afternoon. The majority of my classes are online and so I am able to make my schedule flexible. I discovered this plan just last year when I knew that I was going to need to manage my fatigue and rheum better. Getting up and going to class was difficult and it drained me, so I switched. Well now I am feeling as though it is time to switch things up again and head back to campus. In my work towards balance (which I have never fulfilled, not even close), I have come to find that doing the same thing for too long allows my body to adapt and become comfortable (almost like you’re favoring one side of the scale), therefore I need to learn to switch things up quicker. Thank goodness I am okay with change.

My Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays consist of full days of work, sometimes eleven hours. I know that your initial thoughts may be, “she’s nuts!” and I kind of am, but I work for a physical therapist, so it definitely has its perks. It is hard to be at work and helping out patients when I myself am in pain, or have a pounding headache. The fine motor movements of plugging a pad into the e-stim machine can be very difficult on bad days. At the same time it warms my heart, because I am able to help them ease their pains, and with their kind words or the little things they remember, it makes my days that much better. And as I said before, there are definitely some positive points to working for a PT. They help me with pains that flare up and also have a full service gym complete with foam rollers (how they save my back!!). There are times when I end up lying on the floor in the back room because I just can’t stand to sit anymore, and after about fifteen minutes I’ll stand up and then get back to work. I know that my coworkers are understanding that I may not be feeling up to pop every day, but they are so kind.

All the in between hours in my week I save for homework (the piles of it) and a desperate grasp for sanity. I think my hardest struggle with balancing a school/work/health lifestyles is that you’ve got to have ‘me’ time. I think that is the most substantial thing I forget. I don’t have time set apart in my day where I can just be still and read a book or close my eyes for a few minutes. I just have those times where I’m either trying to do homework, or fixing a meal, or trying to keep the house clean, or studying for a test, and then I end up getting distracted with something else.

My health has been consistent the last month which has been refreshing. Since when does that ever happen with rheumatoid arthritis?

But even though my health has been consistent, life can still be hard. There is always something else around the corner, and more tests on the way.

That’s why when this weekend hit and my desire to be a student hit rock bottom, I had to dig deep inside myself recognize that 35 credits left before my bachelors was worth it although I could’ve easily taken my associates and ran. Taking time off to pick up more hours at work and have more time for hobbies sounds like the most enticing and glamorous thing at this moment in time. But like I’ve learned from rheumatoid, just when you hit rock bottom is the time you start climbing up. You won’t stay miserable forever (although it may seem like it), and there is always a way up (I prefer the stairs). Heck, even down there at the bottom at least you know you’re on solid ground.

So with all the sudden trials and adversities, the coaxing of an ‘easier’ life, and all those nagging feelings that come and go, I will continue to balance this life of mine. The adjustments are coming–like less credits per semester and taking classes on campus again. We can’t stay in the same routine forever just like we won’t be on the bottom of the hole forever. Harvey Dent/Two-Face said it so well in The Dark Knight: “The night is darkest just before the dawn.” I take comfort in that, because the sun always rises. But then again the night always falls (and that’s okay!)

So take joy in the life and “stop the glorification of busy.” Do what you need to do, balance what needs to be balanced. I know that right now I’m pretty out of whack and that’s okay.

And when it comes to life with rheumatoid in the mix, soak in the moments when you can bend your fingers all the way down (I was so happy yesterday when that happened) and be thankful for your body. Cry the tears of frustration that need to be cried. But let joy in. Arthritic bodies can do incredible things. It may not always seem like it, but every time I walk a little farther, or do one more rep, or type or draw for a bit longer I have a glimpse of all my capabilities that I can’t quite fathom. It’s rheumatoid, it’s our life, but there’s always more to be explored and enjoyed.

So with life and work and school and rheumatoid I say, bring it on, and let’s keep going. Balance. Breathe. Enjoy.