Using Love to Cope with Rheumatoid Arthritis
Love is all you need.
- The Beatles
Comfort. It can be hard to come by in the times when pain has invaded your body, occupying it like a foreign army. It can make you feel excruciatingly alone, because pain is, at its root, something you cannot share. You can talk about it, you can describe it, but you cannot link to another's sensory system to show them what it feels like, share every exquisite jab and jolt and thus, you are alone in the midst of swollen, aching joints.
Love. Being embraced by someone who loves you doesn't magically make the pain go away, but it can make it easier to bear, for a moment. Even though you know that ultimately, you are the one who needs to deal with this unshareable thing that lives inside you, knowing that someone is next to you, holding your hand in the darkness and handing you tissues when you cry can make the difference between despair and finding the steel within to keep going.
Valentine's Day is just around the corner but for many, this particular holiday tends to not arrive, as much as loom ominously on the horizon. This day that celebrate lovers has a way of making people feel unloved. If you're single, you inevitably feel left out and if you have a partner, the pressure for perfection engendered by the media and advertising leaves the road to happiness on February 14 akin to a minefield of misunderstanding and unmet expectations. And if you're in pain and depressed, all the cupids and hearts and sappy commercials just exacerbate the loneliness from living inside RA.
But who says February 14 is just for lovers? Where is it written that only a romantic partner can give you the love and comfort that can help you get through a day when the pain is front and centre? What about all the other love in your life?
Every morning, I am greeted by whiskers on my face and clear, green eyes welcoming me to the day and encouraging me to get my butt out of bed so I can put down food for Mojo the Wondercat. Later in the day, my mother calls and we have a chinwag about this, that and the other thing and later still, a friend and I debate world politics over a telephone lunch date in the middle of work. In the afternoon, my sister emails me news about my niece and nephew, someone on MyRACentral writes a post saying exactly what I feel and in the evening, I go out for dinner with another friend and laugh until I cry.
All of this is love.
The love of my family, my friends and yes, my cat, lend me faith and trust throughout the day, lends me strength when I need it, support when I falter and on the days when the pain makes me cry and rage against the world, their love helps get me through. A cuddle with the cat takes me out of the pain for a few minutes, a laugh with a friend shines a light into dark corners, attempting to run the world (even if just in theory) gives my brain a workout and serves as a reminder that there's more to me than the disease. Realizing others feel like I do gives me encouragement and a chat about this, that and the other thing pulls me into the world, focusing on something other than the pain. And all of these remind me that I am not alone.
When Sandra Bullock won a Golden Globe a few weeks ago, she thanked her husband in her acceptance speech, saying "I never knew what it felt for someone to have my back" - a lovely sentiment acknowledging that ephemeral sense of team you have in a good relationship. But this sense of team is not limited only to a romantic partner. It shines through in other kinds of love, as well,whether it's the relationship you have with your pet, your siblings, parents, children, friends and communities of others like you. It's what gets you through - not one of these in and of itself, but the combination of them all, strand after strand, weaving an invisible net embracing you, each contributing to a whole greater than the sum of its parts. A knowledge that someone, several someones, have your back
So this year, why don't we create our own, wider definition of what Valentine's Day is about and celebrate all the love in our lives that get us through?
You can read more of Lene's writing on The Seated View.