I'm usually a pretty brave girl when it comes to dealing with the trials and travails of living with rheumatoid arthritis, but there is one subject that makes me feel, well, a little spooked: (dare my fingers even type the word?) Remission.
Somehow, though my condition has steadily improved over the last year and a half, this topic has remained a cold, murky, concept. Although it's the ultimate goal, it feels unattainable most of the time. I mean, how do you know if you are in remission? What does it even mean to be in remission when your disease is chronic, and you are only ever one flare away from having your body wrecked?
According to the Merriam-Webster medical dictionary, the definition of remission is "a state or period during which the symptoms of a disease are abated." According to this definition, I might qualify as being in remission, or pretty close to it, physically. These days, my RA isn't presenting itself in the form of severe pain, fatigue and big, fat swollen joints, but emotionally and mentally, it's a whole different story. Even when my RA is quiet, it's still there, lurking in the shadows like a ghost.
A few weeks ago, I woke up early enough on a Saturday to go to a 9 a.m. yoga class. It was an intermediate level class, but I was feeling energetic and up for the challenge. As we went through the beginning sun salutations, I was pleased to feel my body warming up nicely, and I knew it was going to be a good, juicy practice. The pace picked up, and we began going from one pose right into another. We moved forward from downward facing dog into plank pose, and before I even realized what I was doing, I was halfway into caturanga, a pose that puts a lot of pressure on your wrists, and one that I resolutely don't do any more, ever, AT ALL. As soon as I realized what I was doing, I put my knees down to modify the pose and take pressure off my wrists, but I could feel a sense of alarm moving through my nervous system in response to the fact that I had nearly done something forbidden -- something that might rouse my RA from its slumber.
After class, I kept thinking about this moment. Clearly, on a physical level, my body had felt fine and ready to move into that pose - one it had known quite well in my pre-RA days, but one that I figured I wouldn't ever practice again, even if I could for fear of bringing on a flare or overstressing my joints. It was as if I could feel the cold breath of RA over my shoulder, whispering menacingly in my ear that I'd better not push my luck...or else!
Later that week, I sat on my yoga mat at home and got ready to practice on my own. I was feeling pretty good again. My wrists felt fine, so I decided to try caturanga out and see how my body reacted. As I moved from downward facing dog into plank pose, I slowly bent my arms and lowered myself push-up style closer to the floor into caturanga, then into another "banned" pose, upward facing dog, and then back into downward facing dog. I felt fine. Emboldened, I moved through a decidedly unmodified practice, but the whole time I couldn't help feeling like my RA was going to come up behind me and viciously pull the mat out from under my feet, just to show me who was really in charge.