A Trunkful of Life

Marianna Paulson Health Guide
  • I'm thrilled to join the team on HealthCentral's RA site. I look forward to chatting with you as we travel along on this journey called life. I don't know about you, but suddenly I feel like breaking out in song! Stay tuned for future posts where I'll share practical tips to help you address and undress your stress.

    When I was not yet a teenager, I took great delight in snooping in my grandmother's trunk. It was the very same trunk that contained all her worldly possessions when she and my dad immigrated to Canada in the first quarter of the twentieth century. By the time I came around, many of the items in the trunk had been replaced by other things. Canadian citizenship papers, letters from relatives I will never know, and pictures of new babies were all nestled together with her most treasured items – a red velvet-lined case of silver-ware, and a special occasion black hat festooned with a pearl hat pin. The trunk seemed to be infused with a magnetic pull, that drew me back, again and again, to peer into the life of my grandmother – a life that was punctuated with both rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.

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    Those items in my grandmother's trunk were well-seasoned with stories that were told to me in another language. At a young age, I learned that even though the items were contained, my imagination was not – a lesson I lost, then found, thanks to regularly transforming my stress.

    So, let's have a rummage through my metaphorical trunk.

    A hockey stick

    In my third year of university, I played co-ed hockey for a season. The morning after a game, I remember awakening with extremely stiff and painful toes and fingers. That was the dawning of my diagnosis – lupus, which was changed, several years later, to rheumatoid arthritis.

    Bathing suits, bathing caps and goggles

    I started competitive swimming at a late age. There I was, the tallest and oldest kid (14) in the beginner's group. I became a strong swimmer because I managed to swallow my teen-aged pride and swim miles and miles of lengths doing front and back crawl, breast stroke, and butterfly. This later led to a job teaching swimming and lifeguarding.


    Swimming has carried me through my diagnosis and my flare-ups. Even though surgeries and fusions have caused me to adapt my strokes, I am still at home in the water, whether it be a pool or the ocean – a warm ocean, please!

    Photo albums

    Yes, I'm old enough to have photo albums! Lots of them. There are pictures of trips – across Canada, in Europe, New Zealand, the Hawaiian Islands, Florida, and a number of Caribbean countries. I do love to travel!

    You'll find action shots, too. Cycling in the Rockies, windsurfing in Northern Manitoba and Ontario, skating on frozen ponds and in arenas, camping and hiking throughout western Canada, skiing – both Nordic and Alpine. I'm not a natural athlete, but that didn't stop me from enjoying these activities when my RA was well-controlled.

    During flare-ups, I adapted the activities and adjusted my expectations. When I could no longer perform some of my swimming strokes the way I used to teach them, I discovered that it can take a bit of emotional work to get to the point of acceptance. My ego was trying to interfere. I could hear it nattering away at me, “But, that's not how you swim front crawl. What will everyone think?” Thankfully, my stress techniques helped me get in the swim!

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    You'll easily recognize my grandmother by her hands, in the family albums. My dad also had RA, but his hands did not betray him.


    What's a trunk without papers? There's a resume, which includes my teaching history in Manitoba, Ontario, and British Columbia. Oh, there's my business license for Auntie Stress! You'll also find my marriage license, and of course, the license for my dog, Holly.

    I kept a history of my surgeries – they always want to know when my hips were replaced, my neck or toes were fused, or when my elbow was treated to an arthroscopic synovectomy.

    Finally, there's an ever-evolving collection of books, fiction and non-fiction. All printed on paper.

    Tools and Gadgets

    How would I ever get through my day without all the handy tools and gadgets that grip, extend, hold, stick, open, turn, twist, pull, and carry? (I'm sure I'm missing a verb or two!)

    I will be sharing tips, tools, tricks, and techniques to help you swim through life with rheumatoid arthritis.

    The box within the box

    This is my Auntie Stress toolbox. In it, you'll find tools, techniques, tricks, books, and strategies that have vastly improved my life. I joke that I am my own best client, but it's not a joke. It's a decision; a choice I made when I became aware how much I was suffering – emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. My hands and feet may divulge that I have rheumatoid arthritis, but as I've penned in a poem on A Rheumful of Tips, rheumatoid arthritis does not have me.

    As I journey through life, some of the contents of my trunk have changed, as have I. We do the best we can with what we have. As new information and experiences come our way, we are provided with a training ground. Sometimes the terrain is rough, and the lessons come along far too frequently for comfort. Life can be tough, even on those who don't have a chronic illness, or two. But life is also grand.

    I believe that we are meant to learn, change, and grow, and I look forward to our interactions so we can learn, change and grow, together.

    Marianna Paulson is also known as Auntie Stress. On her site you'll find her blog, which covers topics such as stress, humour, and RA. She's also the author of the award-winning blog, A Rheumful of Tips.


Published On: March 03, 2014