(Before I go on, I should note that a friendly quibble over the meaning of words used in certain contexts, or semantics, is the favorite pastime of most writers and almost all editors. We just can’t help ourselves. It’s too much fun.)
That said, I absolutely agree with the blogger that having to accept that I have a mean, painful and possibly disabling autoimmune disease is frustrating and distasteful. And I agree that the word “accept” implies my willingness to receive, approve of or take on the disease without protest. It implies that I regard my RA as proper and normal, that I respond favorably to it, agree to undertake it and assume an obligation for it.
Um, except I don’t.
The word “accept” may imply those things, but lemme tell you, I’m unwilling and not the least bit receptive to my RA. I disapprove of it and frequently protest while I endure it. I don’t think it’s anything close to proper or normal, I have a very unfavorable opinion of it and I never agreed to it or obligated myself to having it in any way.
But here’s the thing: RA is incurable. It won’t go away—at least, not forever. It might take a very rare, lengthy holiday, and it might step out for a day or two at a time, but as long as it remains incurable, I can expect it to return. And because of that, I feel it will do me little good to deny it.
And so, I decided long ago to accept it. For me, that means that I acknowledge RA’s presence in my body. I acknowledge that it can and does do damage to my joints and might also damage other parts of me: my soft tissues, veins, heart and lungs, even my eyes. I acknowledge that it causes me sometimes awful pain, stiffness, senseless fatigue and sometimes, real disability, though I’ve been lucky enough not to be permanently disabled. So far. I accept all this about my RA because by accepting it, I also allow myself to learn all I can and fight this disease with every weapon—be it medicine, natural remedies, exercise, diet, meditation or simply a cocky attitude—at my disposal.
Then there’s that other word: “adapt.” I work daily to adapt to my RA. It changes constantly, so I sort of have to. Adapting means I don’t have to give up or modify everything I do, only some things—and not all the time. Adapting means I try my best to roll with the punches. I jig when RA jags. When it’s flaring, giving me a lot of pain, forcing me to move slowly and carefully, I alter my expectations for what I hope to accomplish for the length of the flare. When my RA is quiet I approach activities more freely, but still with a certain amount of caution, because even when I’m feeling well, it’s easy to overdo it and end up causing myself more pain and exhaustion than I want to go through.
Adapting also means allowing myself flexibility in my emotions. There are some days when even the ugliest flare won’t get me down. I’m tough. I know how to persevere, to keep my chin up. But there are other days when dealing with the pain, disability and the without-any-warning nature of a sudden flare is just beyond me. On those days I’m quiet. Sometimes I’m blue. I don’t berate myself or feel cowardly, though. I allow myself a little pity-party. Accepting and adapting to having RA requires a lot of strength and courage, so I give myself a break when I’m running a little low on both of them. Sometimes I just get tired. Still, I know—because I’ve done it so many times before—that I’ll be okay. Things will look up. It just takes time.
No one wants to have this disease. None of us who have it did anything to deserve it. Do I get frustrated that medical science hasn’t found a really good, non-addictive painkiller or even better, a cure for this rotten disease? Oh, yeah. But then I remind myself how far we’ve come and how much we’ve learned about rheumatoid arthritis in the 24 years since I was diagnosed. The drugs available today are much better than they used to be. I have to believe that they’ll be a lot better 24 years from now, too. In fact… by then, perhaps medical science will have cured RA. Maybe it will finally be a scourge of the past, gone for good.
You know what? I’ll accept that.