What I learned

Because it’s so easy to get grouchy and focus on all the things we can’t do because of rheumatoid arthritis, I would like to take a moment now to mention all the things we can do.

Spring bluebells

Personally, I can (wooHOO!) walk the dog. I can clean the old ashes out of the woodstove. I can dress without help. I can make oatmeal, and eat it. I can vacuum the carpets and sweep the floor. I can make beds. I can drive. I can go outside and enjoy this gorgeous run of spring weather. I can put all my many pills into individual day-packs, ready to take for the next 31 days without having to open any of those niggly small bottles. I can put away clean dishes and wipe down counters. I can type, which means I can write, letting my imagination take me away to another place and time, or even another dimension.

Of course, I can only do all these things mindfully, since my hands and wrists are going through a nasty flare (72 hours and counting). But I can do them. Sure, most of them are just chores, the daily small jobs that we all have to do if we don’t want to live in a pigsty. But it gives me pleasure to get them done. My mind is easier when my home is neat and clean, and when I know I can remember my meds and take each dose without a hassle.

What really pleases me is that, for now at least, the most of me is pain-free. When I take Finny for his first long walk later today along the El Dorado Trail, my hips, knees and feet won’t hurt.

I’m grateful for this; in the longago, I used to walk Maxwell (my old wire-haired dachshund, the one Finny reminds me so much of) while I hurt like a mo-fo. We lived in a fourth floor flat with no elevator, so every one of his four or five walks a

Not Max, but close enough.

day meant climbing up and down those stairs, one at a time, often while leaning on a cane or using crutches. Around the long city block we’d go, Max pulling as hard as he could (I never could teach him to heal) while I brought up the rear, cussing beneath my breath with each and every painful step. He’d range along in front of me, his tail sticking straight up, round bottom bouncing, his goofy short legs reminding me of those of a cartoon character, full of joy and utterly oblivious of my grouching.

Those were painful years. Agonizing years. And yet Max, bless him, taught me something very important on those countless walks. He enjoyed each of them without reservation. Even though he had to (literally) drag me along, he took total delight in his world. Because of Max, I learned to set aside my pain and notice things.

What things? How about the fairy-ring of mushrooms in the grass behind our building, each ‘shroom tiny and perfect, the ring three feet across and perfectly formed. I’d read about these in stories, but I didn’t believe they existed. Because of Max, now I know they do. There was the grand, old linden tree a block over that buzzed like a live-wire each spring, its spreading branches covered with tiny white flowers that drew tens of thousands of honeybees. We gave that tree a wide berth because I’m allergic to bees and didn’t want to risk getting stung. Nevertheless I loved it. I could hear it buzzing a block away. It filled me with awe.

In the summer, sometimes we’d walk to the vast city park a quarter-mile away. It had a beautiful rose garden I loved to visit, and a huge pond upon which floated white swans and troops of ducks. There was an old café by the pond called Das

Das Boothaus, Speckenbuettel Stadtpark, Bremerhaven, Germany

Boothaus; I’d stop at the outdoor tables for a cup of strong German coffee, and sometimes a slice of berry torte. It was a good place to rest. I’d put my throbbing foot up onto another chair and will myself to ignore it. I’d sit there and steel myself for the return walk while I enjoyed the cool sunshine and marveled that I was there at all, living and working in Northern Germany. And wee Max panted happily beneath the table, waiting for me.

Without Max, I’d never have seen real, live hedgehogs after dark. I’d never have seen one roll up tight into a ball the size of a big honeydew melon, prickles out as Max

This is a little one.

tried to figure out what to do with the pointy thing. If Max hadn’t needed his walks, I’d never have noticed the sudden, sweet scent of gardenias at night. I’d never have walked while the icy wind blew the rain sideways and the cars shoooooshed by, their tires clacking rhythmically on the cobblestones. I’d have missed the foghorns lowing across the dark city from the harbor, a mournful sound that went with cold, foggy nights like bread goes with butter.

Max taught me what I can do in spite of pain that seems to fill the mind to its corners. That I could find space in myself to notice other, much more pleasant things, even when I hurt so badly it was all I could do not to cry. I learned to count cadence to myself when we walked – the simple “HUP, two, three, four, HUP two three four” allowed me to block out pain. Sometimes I’d sing to myself beneath my breath. Simple childhood songs like “Row, row, row your boat, gentle down the stream…” And all the while, no matter the weather, no matter how hard he had to work to drag me along, Max was filled with delight.

So today, I’m thinking what I can do, rather than what I can’t. There’s a tired part of me that wants go dark and moody; wants to just wallow in misery because dammit, my bloody hands hurt! But all wallowing does is make me feel old and crabby and hopeless. I’ll admit that there are times when I indulge myself in a little self-pity party. We all do, now and then, and perhaps we even need a short break from being relentlessly upbeat. Max taught me to keep the breaks short, though. There was too much to do!

What things can you do in spite of RA? When you’re in the depths of a bad flare, where do you find your joy? What is it that makes you get out of bed each morning, even though it hurts?

We are all very brave. We live our lives with joy in spite of RA. Let’s celebrate.

8 thoughts on “What I learned

  1. Great post Wren. You’re right, sometimes we have to allow ourselves a momentary pity party, but then it’s time to get on with it and celebrate what we do have! Like you, I can do so many things. Cook, clean counters, drive, put dishes way, go for walks, work at a job I enjoy (most days), etc. I count myself very lucky (again – most days). Hopefully your hands will give up the fight and give in to your optimism soon.


  2. Wonderful post. It is always important to remember how lucky we are to be able to do the things we can. I thought you may be interested in the below listed web site. Something you can do when the hands and wrists are really squawking. The Franklin Institute in Philly has a Red Tail Hawk cam and they are filming a nest 24 hours a day. So far 3 eggs! Last year I followed from hatching to first flight.


  3. I love your blog, I sometimes have a good wee cry because your writing is so lovely and true.

    I laughed at your ‘walking mantras’. I have something similar, when I cycle. If my body’s grumbling, up some steep hill, I just recite “f*ck you RA, f*ck you RA” until I get to the top. Not very mature but hey! Cycling – that’s one thing I can do most of the time!


  4. I like to think that maybe Max knew exactly what he was doing, pulling you along. Maybe if he knew how to heel, you wouldn’t have gone so far, seen so much, accomplished so many things…

    What a great dog and what happy memories you have of him!

    🙂 L


  5. What a great little dog! It sounds like your attitude makes a difference. I tend to think, “I have to go feed my ducks,” when I should be be saying, “I’m so glad that we have those duck and that we’re able to take care of them.”

    What can I still do?… I can type, play games with my kids, think, work sudoku puzzles, spend time with friends, go for walks and bike rides, bake cookies for my husband, and tuck the little ones into bed at night. Actually, I can do a lot of things, just not as many in a day as I used to do. Thank you for the reminder.


  6. I was having my wallowing day yesterday.
    I didn’t think that I had done much last week yet I was utterly exhausted and could barely function.
    Perfect timing to read this post 🙂
    I have plenty to be grateful for. But what do I get out of bed everyday for? I get out of bed everyday because I can. I am grateful that I can walk when only 6 months ago I was bedridden. I am grateful for wonderful friends who have been there for me when I needed them the most.
    I am grateful that my hands aren’t so sore that I can pick my 20 month old nephew up and go for walks with him and smell flowers and play in the garden.
    I am grateful for my wonderful parents who I don’t know where I would be today without their help (financial and emotional) and their undying support for their stubborn daughter.
    I am grateful that I am completing a degree, something I never thought I would do and that although I may miss some classes, and struggle with the course load, in 2 more years I will have a degree that I have completed, that I have achieved.
    I could go on and on, but the last thing that I feel I am grateful for today is that I have found a wonderful partner who is understanding and caring, yet encouraging me to push past the boundaries I have in my mind.
    I couldn’t walk 6 months ago, yet 3 months ago I waterskiied. I am grateful for life. 🙂


  7. Wren, you’re so right. It’s not about what we can’t do, but about what we can do each and every day. Somedays my list varies depending on how my RA is treating me, but I am thankful for what I am still able to accomplish. Finny is adorable. This really hits home with me since we just rescued Maggie about 3 months ago. We also lost our older outside dog Frank, who like Max is missed greatly but thought of often. We can look back now on all the good times they gave us and all the things they taught us. Unfortunately one thing Frank never did learn was to leave the skunks alone. lol


  8. i do love your posts. always spot on with what i’m going through myself! just did my own post on how i still can’t run, but now i can walk fairly normally. and like nadia commented, i can still cycle too.


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