In September, CreakyJoints Blogger Rick Phillips launched the first #RABlog Week. Daily topics were provided over seven days for bloggers to share their experience on living with RA. One topic in particular really resonated with me: What in Life Do You Really Enjoy? In writing about that topic, I realized how large a role my own passions played in my life – and how essential it was for me to persevere, especially in the face of chronic illness.
I was fortunate to spend most of my childhood outdoors. I played street hockey with the neighborhood kids, climbed trees, played hide and seek in the woods, biked, walked and ran everywhere. That outdoor world helped me develop my imagination and set me on the journey that would fashion the shape of my life. I took classes in literature, drama and writing; I spent years studying different forms of dance, and landed roles in several theatrical productions. I traveled, took day trips, and hiked the rugged trails of the west coast. I thrived in a perfect balance of work and play.
The shape of my life changed with the arrival of RA. My energy decreased, and the pain and inflammation made it difficult for me to keep up with the brisk pace of my physical life. I was forced to abandon certain activities. I stepped away from the stage for a while, uncertain if I could handle the long hours of rehearsal time and performance. I stopped dancing because my body couldn’t cope with the pressure, and dance partners unintentionally place extra stress on my joints. My hiking days ended, leaving me with hazy memories of cool mountain paths spiked with the pungent scent of raindrops; my effortless physicality disappeared with the high-pitched cry of an eagle soaring somewhere above the trees. Instead of engaging in the activities I loved, I was consumed in the provocations of my disease. RA was a petulant child, always demanding my attention.
Life continued to flow around me. It disturbed me that I was no longer a part of that flow. I looked back at photographs of me dancing, travelling, hiking and acting. I recalled the night I twisted my ankle while performing on stage but kept going, shaking off the discomfort in the euphoria of doing what I loved. It occurred to me that there was no reason I couldn’t apply the same principle to my life now. There had to be a way to reclaim pieces of my life before RA. I started engaging in activities I always enjoyed, but couldn’t fit into my former hectic schedule. I watched movies, I read, I attended writing classes and play readings, and I discovered the pleasure of photography. I carved out a new shape for my creative life by penning my own words. These small targets encouraged me to aim towards managing my symptoms, rather than letting them manage me. I recognized my new limits and chose projects I knew I could handle. Instead of hiking, I walked; instead of dancing, I swam. I started traveling again, and changed my work to fit my life. I was able to diminish the force of RA in the new order of my life.
Distraction is powerful medicine. When I am consumed in something I enjoy, it removes my attention from the discomfort of my body for a little while and encourages me to go one step further. There will always be days when I am brutally reminded that I am not the same as I once was and there may be things I will never do again – but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing I can do. There are always new goals to replace the old ones. And even when I try and fail, I can still find some small consolation in the effort. Life is never stagnant – it is about growing and adapting, about discoveries and finding the small joys that can help make our battle bearable. I couldn’t just sit back and wait for life to find me again – I chose to find my life.
To view all the posts from #RABlog Week, go to RADiabetes.com, select the topic that interests you and you will be directed to the link page for each day.