So I have done it: I've hit my first anniversary of being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. And what a year it has been -- full of so many volatile ups and downs that it could give the stock exchange a run for its money.
Just a year ago (to me, it feels more like an entire century), had I been writing about my experiences, I would have been singing quite a different tune than the one I've been singing lately. Back then, it was hard to lie down, to stand, to sit, or to walk. Moving hurt and not moving hurt too. As my joints swelled, my world shrank. I didn't see friends as much. I cut out many of the activities I used to do, like my meditation class and teaching yoga. I stopped baking cakes and cookies for friends or to take into work. If something wasn't essential, it didn't get done, because when you are in that much pain, everything costs you more.
One of the things I have noticed with my experience of RA is that there is an amnesia that comes with it. After a few months of being in tremendous pain every day and only getting an hour or two of fitful sleep a night, I got to a point where I could no longer physically remember what it felt like to feel good. I had no body memory left of what it felt like to not be in pain. The constant pain and depression were like a cloak around me, blocking out any remembrance of what it was like to be pain-free.
It's really amazing what meds can do. Now that I am feeling better and am (knock on wood) managing my RA pretty well, a different, protective amnesia has set in like a thick fog. I remember that painful period of time, but very distantly, like remembering a book I read a long time ago. I'm sure this is some kind of safety mechanism to shield me from remembering exactly how horrible it really was, but every now and then, something will trigger a deep memory and send me back with excruciating detail to what my life and body were like then. Although these memories are painful and sad, they do give me an opportunity to mark all the progress I have made and not take it for granted.
So, as a way to commemorate the ups and downs of the last year, I have made a list of things I wasn't able to do then without great pain and, in some instances, some savvy tricks, which I can do now:
1. Washing my hair. This was really difficult because I wasn't able to lift my arms very well, my right especially, due to the inflammation and pain in my collarbone joint (what a nasty little sucker that one was). In order to wash my hair, I had to make use of my ridiculously small stand-up shower. I would wedge my right elbow into the corner and then slowly, with hot water pouring on me, walk closer to the corner so that my elbow would be forced higher and higher up the wall, thereby lifting my arm up over my head and supporting its weight so that I could work up a lather. Very happy not to have to do this anymore. In fact, I'm lifting my arms up and down right now to celebrate!