My early childhood took place in a small town neighborhood tucked within the confines of a cul-de-sac. Long before smart phones and tablets took over the imagination, I spent my days’ bike-riding, playing street hockey and indulging in epic games of hide and seek in the wooded park just steps from my own front door.

I loved to explore the pitted trails carved out by kids, dirt bikes and horses, following them to the end before turning back. Little did I know that one day I would become entangled in the creeping thicket of Rheumatoid Arthritis. I would no longer be able to go back the way I came – I had to clear a new path forward.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

A Clearing in the Woods with Rheumatoid Arthritis – photo by J.G. Chayko

The excursion into the woods of Rheumatoid Arthritis is fast and steep. Instead of open paths with sparkling brooks and sun-bleached stones, I encountered a thorny bramble that limited what I could and could not do. It disrupted my routine and changed the way I moved. A simple shift in the barometric pressure became the difference between a productive day and an ineffective one. Wearing the wrong pair of shoes could stop me in my tracks; the stiffness of inflamed joints stole my mornings, and pushed me into the swamp of fatigue. RA tested my aptitude on the most basic skills, making simple tasks an exercise in perseverance. It upset my work, home and social life with unpredictable flares and dreaded medication hangovers. I felt like the journey into my life was no longer mine to control. My sun-dappled trail had led me into the thorny scrubs of disease.

As I hacked through the new underbrush of unfamiliar territory, I began to pay attention to subtle changes in the terrain. Hidden beneath the branches of infirmity were new paths waiting to take shape. I started cutting out the petty frustrations and pipedreams cluttering up the fringes of my life. I shifted my perspective. Instead of a sunrise, I looked to the stars; instead of a morning workout, an afternoon swim; instead of a late night party, a quiet dinner and a movie, or a peaceful evening reading on the patio. I worked on excavating the dreams I had buried in the undergrowth waiting for the right time. I rediscovered my childhood propensity for exploration and instead of trying to fit into the flow of a restricted life, I shifted the particles to fit me, exploring goals within my reach.

Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis is muddy, chaotic and capricious. I am not disappointed when things don’t go my way the first time around. Frustrated? Sure, but never defeated. RA forced me to change course and sent me on a bold trek to discover opportunities I might never have pursued. I learned to establish a different pace, and appreciate what I already had rather than what I didn’t. There were lots of things I couldn’t do when I was perfectly healthy and not once did I ever let those things distract me from my life. Why should now be any different?

I know there will be times I will stumble on my path – my foot will get caught on an exposed root or I will get stuck in the mire of disease, but I know that with a little patience and ingenuity, I can push through the brier and find my clearing in the woods. Sometimes it takes a mudpack to cleanse away the dirt and unearth the beauty beneath the underbrush – just like those days when I peeked beneath the mossy cluster of a sagging bough and discovered a ring of daisies.