As the year draws to a close, I find it helpful to look back and take stock of where I was at the start of the year, where I am now, and what happened to get me here. It allows me to see how far I’ve come as well as where I’ve stumbled along the way, and provides a feeling of momentum for the year ahead.
My RA has, thankfully, not thrown me for any big loops (at least, it hasn’t as of the time this article was written!) in 2010.It behaved less like a wily toddler who has learned to run and wreak constant havoc and more like a contented child, able to keep itself busy most of the time and only demand attention from me when it really, truly needed something. Fatigue continues to be its weapon of choice when it does command attention, plus a few episodes of painful, swollen joints thrown in here and there for good measure. Back in the spring, my rheumatologist tried to assuage these grumblings with an additional drug, sulfasalazine, but my skin broke out in hives and a rash in ugly protest. Apparently, two drugs for RA are all my body is willing to tolerate for the moment. Add one more medication to the allergy list!
I didn’t challenge my RA to a travel-duel in 2010 like I did in 2008 and 2009 by planning multi-week adventure trips to South America and the Middle East, but I did test it with a 14-hour flight to South Korea for work.Armed with some extra drugs and a strategic battle plan from my rheumatologist, I emerged victorious.
But the most significant achievement I have made this year with RA is in finally learning how to reveal my dirty little secret to someone I’m dating.For me, 2010 was the year of disclosure. I told not one, but two people I was dating that I had RA. (Mind you, I was not dating them at the same time!)
At the end of last year, I realized how much keeping my RA a secret was holding me back and setting me up for failure when it came to relationships, so when 2010 rolled in, I vowed that I would turn over a new leaf and let any man who came into my life know that I came with a faulty immune system. I didn’t have to wait long; last January, I briefly went out with a guy and made him my RA guinea pig.I didn’t manage to drop the RA bomb until our third date, and I didn’t do it as gracefully or as confidently as I could have.Nonetheless, out it went. Surprisingly, his response to my admission mattered much less to me than did my own. I felt relieved and empowered.I had turned the tables on my RA and taken back this part of my life. Even though nothing more developed between the object of my admission and myself, I didn’t feel like RA was the culprit. Disclosing my RA made me realize that although RA is a part of me, that’s all it is- a part; it’s not the whole picture.
All of this was a dress rehearsal for what has turned out to be a much more important relationship. Determined to stay in the dating game after disclosure #1, I went online and after a lot of searching and deleting, ended up meeting a really amazing guy. I had thought disclosing my RA the second time around would be easier, but realized that telling someone you are really interested in that you aren’t in tip top shape is much harder.
I put off bringing my RA into the relationship for several weeks until it felt inevitable, and then I told him about my RA, what it was, and what it meant for me. When he didn’t run away, I was immensely relieved…and then began to find out what happens when you are in a relationship and have to share your RA with another person. There are questions, anxieties and assumptions to field, with unpredictable reactions on both ends. Shooting up in front of a romantic partner for the first time was tremendously scary for me and brought out a lot of insecurities. As our relationship has deepened over the last eight months, I’ve had to adjust my comfort level and feel his out - after all, my new normal is still new to him, and, well, not exactly normal. How much should I volunteer? Should I wait for him to ask questions? For the short term, I think we have created a good balance, but I still harbor fears and wonder how my RA might impact our future together. Will someone really choose to spend their life with me when ‘in sickness and in health’ is already defined?
These are questions for the future. 2011 may hold the answers to some of them; only time will tell. In the meantime, I find that looking back at 2010 helps give me perspective and realize that with all of its ups and downs, life does move forward. 2011, here I come!
Sara is the author of the blog, The Single Gal’s Guide to RA.