Surviving RA: Avoiding The Abyss & Finding Gratitude

Vanessa Collins Health Guide
  • Once upon a time, a few years ago, I was in a bad place.  As I think back upon that time, I remember Lene Andersen telling me that if you stare into the abyss long enough, it will start to stare back at you.


    Lene was right, and I thank her for that revelation.  Something happens to a person who endures extreme pain day after day after day.


    First, you go into survival mode.  You conserve your energy. You only move when necessary. You open your eyes only when necessary. You forget to eat.  You forget to drink water. You simply are, and nothing else.


    This level of existence is indeed a dark place.  It is not long before you find yourself staring into the abyss.

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    If you stare into that darkness long enough, it takes on a life of its own.  It lures you closer and closer to the edge. The abyss promises a safe, warm place of nothingness. There is no light in the abyss, but there also is no pain.


    I am happy to say that I resisted the allure of nothingness, but it wasn’t easy.  I am sharing this with you to help you find your way back, should you ever be on the edge of the abyss.


    When the abyss was calling my name, I knew I had to make an effort to get back to the land of the living.  I felt as though I was existing in some sort of alternate universe.


    I eventually had the energy to call my orthopedic doctor.  My doctor’s nurse practitioner was my saving grace.  Her name is Nola, and I will forever be grateful for her caring and her help.


    The first thing Nola did was offer me medication to tamp down the pain that was overtaking my body. Even breathing hurt. I was put on a course of steroids and given pain medication.


    When I finally broke through the cycle of pain, I was still kind of dopey.  It was as if I had awakened from a long, torturous nightmare.


    As the pain left my body, the light came back into my life, and the abyss moved further and further away.  I was safe.  I began to eat and drink.  I was living!


    The next thing Nola did for me was refer me to a different rheumatologist than the one I had been seeing.  I saw Dr M, my current rheumatologist, for the first time in May of 2010. 


    I voiced my concerns to Dr M.  I was afraid of running out of options to treat my RA.   She reassured me when she said that there are always options.  “There is no drug of last resort. We can always do something,” she said.


    Since I stepped back from the edge of the abyss, I have a greater appreciation for EVERYTHING.  The grass looks greener, and the sun feels warmer.  My husband and friends are even more precious to me than they were before my brush with the abyss.


    I find such joy in simple things. I embrace life with open arms and it feels so good!


    If you ever find yourself being lured into darkness, please call your doctor.  You must first get your pain under control.  Celebrate the things you can do.  Don’t worry about the things you used to do, or the things you think you should be able to do.


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    RA is an unpredictable disease. Our days are never the same. Just because we cannot do something physical today, does not mean that we won’t be able to do it tomorrow.


    In this season of Thanksgiving, I am more grateful than I have ever been.  I feel great joy when I encounter the smell of fresh-cut grass, the subtle fragrance of fresh flowers, the blessing of true friendships.


    I have learned to accept people as they are. I cannot make them understand what my life is like now.  If they truly care, they will “get” it.  If they don’t care to try and understand, then so be it. Time is too precious to waste on lost causes.


    I so appreciate my husband and my best friend. I always did appreciate them and love them, but my love and gratitude runs deeper than it did before.


    I am thankful for Lene Andersen for guiding me through my first few years of living with RA. Lene is a wonderful person, and she will always have a special place in my heart.


    I am thankful for the HealthCentral website that provided me with information that helped me understand how RA affects our bodies. I am also thankful for the friends I have met on HC.


    I am thankful for social media.  It helps keep all of us from becoming isolated.


    RA can isolate a person so easily. We don’t feel like going “out” a lot.  We cannot make plans to be somewhere at a certain time because we don’t know how the RA Troll will behave that day.


    The support groups we find online are essential. I cannot imagine living with RA without being able to connect with other people who “get” it.  No needs for explanations in RA support groups. That is so wonderful!


    I wish for you this month marked by Thanksgiving, is that you find a way to look at life anew. There is so much joy to be found in this world, even for those of us with RA.


    Don’t forget that there are things you can do to give back.  When I am flaring, or having a rough time with RA, I rest when I need to rest.  When I am not resting, I try to do something to help others.


    I have what I call a “Card & Call” ministry.  I send get well cards or thinking of you cards to people I know are sick or struggling in some way.


    Sometimes I pick up the phone and call people living with disease, or feeling the stinging loss of a loved one. I don’t usually say a whole lot.  I listen.


    Listening is becoming a lost art in our culture.  I hope it makes a comeback some day.  A lot of people just need someone who cares enough to just listen.


    I wish you all a wonderful month of November and Thanksgiving.  If you are in unrelenting pain, call your doctor.  Get the help you need to reduce your pain to background noise.


    If or when the abyss starts calling, turn your back on it. Look in a different direction.  Open the eyes of your heart.  You will find your way back, and you will find hope once again.  That hope will help you continue on, and it will fill you with gratitude and great joy for the simple joys of life.  

Published On: November 19, 2013