After spending four years in New York City living with roommates, moving into my own place felt like sweet relief: I was finally independent- really, truly independent. I couldn’t wait to relish the simple joy of coming home after a long, crazy day to a space that would be exactly the same as I’d left it that morning. The only dishes in the sink would be mine, and I could have everything just the way I wanted it. To me, it seemed like heaven.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to enjoy my version of heaven too long before rheumatoid arthritis came knocking on my door. In fact, my symptoms began only a few weeks after I’d moved into my studio apartment- talk about an unwelcome houseguest. I hadn’t even settled in completely when this lousy disease flounced in and made itself at home in the middle of my joints. Even worse, there was no way to evict it.
As most anyone who’s ever even had a bad cold or the flu knows, being sick and being by yourself really sucks. There is no one to make you tea or dinner or fetch you an extra blanket. If you need something, it’s up to you. I discovered quickly that life with an illness like rheumatoid arthritis made my hard won independence feel like a burden, not a blessing.
Before my meds kicked in, the range of motion in both of my arms was severely restricted since the joints in my collarbones and shoulders were all aflame. Raising my arms straight up above my waist was incredibly painful, not to mention doing any fancy movement that might involve putting my hands behind my back. This might be easy to work around if you are a guy, but trust me; putting on a bra every morning was no small feat. Neither was zipping up a dress or washing my hair. These are some of the things the doctors don’t warn you about when you get diagnosed with RA.
Day-to-day tasks like opening a jar or a bottle of water, brushing my teeth, and even washing dishes were suddenly acts of pure torture. I took to using pliers in the kitchen to help me open anything that twisted and even used them to help pull up zippers when I dressed. Knowing how much I love to bake, my parents bought me a Kitchenaid mixer so that I wouldn’t have to suffer with a hand-held mixer if I wanted to whip up a cake- not that I was whipping up much of anything other than a nice shot of Enbrel.
Cleaning my apartment took a major back seat. Who cared if the shower had been properly scrubbed when you couldn’t even turn your head from side-to-side? I didn’t, but I couldn’t escape some basic housekeeping chores like taking out the trash and buying groceries. Sadly, pliers weren’t any help at all with either of those tasks, so I bought a wheely cart. That helped some. On the plus side, since I only had to buy groceries for one, there wasn’t usually too much to carry. I took a cab when I needed the extra help, and on days when I just couldn’t manage to feed myself after pushing through a day of work, I had the benefit of access to just about every type of food delivery given that I lived in the middle of New York City. I could also get my laundry delivered . . . and I did.