Right after I got tested for the first time to find out what was ailing me, I went out for brunch downtown with a friend of mine from yoga and meditation class. Over coffee and French toast, I told her about all the funny things going on with my body, and that I had been to my doctor, who was testing me for Lyme disease, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. (Note: this does not make great New York brunch conversation.) One of the things I said to her about being in diagnosis-limbo was that if I did indeed have something wrong with me, it was already wrong with me, and a diagnosis would just be a verbal confirmation, right?
Maybe it won't be such a big deal.
My friend, who is a Buddhist, brought up the notion of identity. According to Buddhist philosophy (I am a relative novice, so this is just my take on it), we perceive our identity -- our idea of who we are -- as a fixed thing, even though it is, in fact, changing all the time. I kept thinking about this over the next week as I waited for my results to come in, wondering what it would all mean and what it would really change to know something was wrong instead of just suspecting it. Somehow, with just a few pricks of a needle, I'd been thrust involuntarily into a whole new way of seeing myself. I was no longer just Sara, I was Sara-being-tested-for-a-possible-illness. I was Sara-who-is young-and-does-yoga-and-should-be-healthy-but-maybe-isn't? I was Sara-in-pain and Sara-plain-and-scared.
As I pondered all these new Saras, I tried to cajole myself into believing that, since I was already living with whatever I had, then how bad could it be to get that verbal confirmation? As it turns out, really, horribly, awfully bad. To hear that kind of news (did I mention I heard it over voicemail????) is not something you can ever prepare for. Even if you have watched a zillion Lifetime movies, when it happens to you, it is happening to you for the first time ever in the universe. I thought the world should stop so that I could begin to comprehend that I was no longer Sara-healthy-as-can-be; I was now Sara-newly-diagnosed-RA-patient. Crap. I was Sick-Sara.
It felt all wrong, and yet, strangely, true. I knew something had not been right. I had been limping around New York City for months in ugly flip-flops with a pregnant toe, unable to lift my arms or bend my wrists and in constant pain. I had stopped sleeping. But hearing "YOU HAVE RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS," and confirming this chronic disease, hurdled me into an entirely new understanding of myself, and of whom I would now be to others.
Enter Sara-who-doesn't-know-what-to-do-with-her-RA. When you are first diagnosed, one of the big ol' pink elephants that suddenly appears in your tiny studio apartment (if you are me) is a sudden worry about how others are going to think of you when you tell them. How do you even wrap your mouth around the words: I have RA? And then, shit, how do you tell this kind of terrible news to people, especially people whom you know it will upset and hurt? Like your mom. I mean, that just seems like (and is) the worst possible thing you could ever tell a parent -- that you are sick and there is nothing they can do about it.