Kelly Young, who writes the excellent RA blog “Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior” has a post up today that covers this theme. Young writes about how tired she is of RA, and how tired she is of hurting, and of having to forego social events, and having to tell others that she hurts, or having to explain to others yet again what rheumatoid arthritis is and how it affects her daily life. She’s tired of not telling others that she’s in pain, hoping that she won’t be thought of as a whiny wimp. She’s very, very tired of having RA.
Her post has been up for less than 24 hours. Already it has attracted many comments from readers, nearly all of whom agree with her wholeheartedly and wish they could “quit” too. In her response to one of them, a 17-year-old with RA, Young writes, “… You said what I tried so hard to say. I think that’s what I say in my mind: ‘I can’t even give up.’ Lately, I’d really like to quit – but how?”
There’s no doubt about it, RA gets mighty old mighty fast. I’m one of the lucky ones whose disease seems to be under control – I have pain, but it’s minor compared to what it has been in the past, and it’s isolated itself to my wrists and hands. But I get tired of RA, too. I wish I could “quit” it. I’m tired of swallowing handfuls of pills every day. I’m tired of losing my hair because of my medications. I’m tired of getting blood drawn every six weeks and tired of doctor appointments. I’m tired of RA’s sudden, vicious, painful jabs when I heedlessly pick up a plate or pull up the blankets on my bed to make it. I’m tired of the way it reminds me, constantly, that it’s part of my life, part of me.
And I’m tired of having to ask others for help with simple things, like opening a jar or folding laundry.
But I can’t quit RA. Like Kelly and her young commenter, and like all of you reading this today, I have no choice but to get on with my life the best I can in spite of it. As a “glass-half-full” sort of person, I try to look at the deeper meaning of my life with RA. This disease has made me much more mindful of the small gifts I receive each day. It’s made me far more tolerant and patient with others than I might be, were I always “normal.” These are good things, but it’s easy to lose my focus when I hurt.
While I don’t feel courageous in the least, when I step back and look with a cool and detached attitude at how I get along each day, I know that I am brave. Living with constant, variable pain takes courage and a good deal of fortitude. It takes grit. I’m very good at clamping my teeth and just going on with whatever it is I need to do, but if I’m honest, there’s more to it than simple bravery.
There’s also the raw fact that I haven’t any choice in the matter, and no matter how hard I fight. No matter how much I want to “quit” RA, RA won’t quit me.
Wait. Let me take that back. I do have a choice. I could simply give up. take a bottleful of strong painkillers or walk in front of a bus. But as bad as my RA has been at times over the last 23 years — and it has been bad — killing myself has never been a real choice for me. I love living too much, even if I have to contend with pain and disability. I like hearing the wrens sing and the watching the towhees hop around my garden. I love the sound of the rain pattering on the roof. I like how the world looks when it snows, and I love my family and friends, I’d miss them too much to just give it all up. I also would never want to hurt them that way.
When it comes down to brass tacks, I realize that before my end comes, as it inevitably will, I still have way too much I want to do. Too many places I still want to go, and too many things I want to try.
I guess what that means is that I’ve learned to accept my RA, unwanted though it is. When I think back to the bad times, when it was hurting me so much that simply standing sometimes seemed – and sometimes was – impossible, I know that there’s something in me that simply won’t allow me to quit. I’ve done so much in my life in spite of my pain, and those are accomplishments that I treasure now in my memory. I did them anyway.
And I know that I’ll continue to do that. I hang on to the hope that someday, somehow, medical science will find a cure for this disease. At the rate science is advancing in this day and age, I even have hope that it will happen in my lifetime. And in the end, isn’t life just hope?
Rheumatoid arthritis, for better or worse, isn’t something we can just “quit.” That means we have to keep on keeping on. And if we can do it while still finding joy and laughter in the world around us, well, then maybe it’s not so bad after all.