It was my first time in a new city alone. I hailed a cab from the airport and handed the cab driver a piece of paper with the address of my destination. We weaved and bobbed through pockets of congested streets darkened by looming skyscrapers. I stepped out of the cab clutching my bag, peering up at scant glimpses of sky peeking between soaring buildings. The air was thick with harried energy and the heat of idling cars. The familiar open energy of my small west coast city was miles away. I walked past several identical looking structures, searching for signs at each intersection.
I pulled a map from my bag, watching its neatly compressed structure explode into a large pleated grid. Lakes, roads, and land masses swelled before my eyes. I studied it, trying to find my path through the myriad of trails skirting the inner city. My joints pulsed with the pounding rhythm of the city as I snaked my way through the throng towards my destination.
Travelling to a new place is always a bit mystifying – so is finding your way through the streets of chronic illness. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were maps for arthritis? How easy it would be if we could plot out the most comfortable routes on our journey, avoiding the mountain of inflammation or the canyon of flares, and travel nonstop to the cave of respite. Unfortunately, arthritis isn’t designed that way.
Arthritis is more like that erratic taxi driver taking a bewildered tourist for a bumpy, sometimes terrifying, ride through a stupefying maze. We watch the landscape blur through the windows with no clue if we are heading in the right direction or if we will ever arrive at our destination.
Each new symptom has us wandering down roads beset with intersections branching off in different directions, without any signs of which way to go. It takes a lot of wrong turns and dead ends before we come to recognize the roads of our own disease. “How do I recognize a flare? How do I manage fatigue? How often should I see my specialist? How long will my medication take to work? What are my new limitations? There are always more questions than answers.
The good news is that along the way, we will inevitably connect with guides to help point us in the right direction and gather the tools we need to help us build our own compass. It takes time to adjust to the ebb and flow of life with RA. Arthritis never manifests exactly the same way so it’s up to us to find our own passage. Along the way we gather information we need to broaden the range of our course. We learn to ride the swells and dips of disease as effortlessly as a flat wide-open country road.
It took time to find my way, but after a while, I grew accustomed to the new territory of my life. I now recognize most of the hidden urban pathways of my disease. I know that I still have a long road to travel and I will have to be wary of gravel roads and potholes, but I feel confident that I can find my own way. I cling to the hope that one day I’ll stray off the course of my regular path and travel into that unchartered territory known as the state of remission. I may have to learn how to navigate all over again, but this time I know I’ll enjoy the journey.