Have I lost my mind? Thankful for having rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? Surely I’m joking…
Although you may wish to argue my grasp on reality, I really do mean it. I have lived with this disease for almost 50 years and over that half-century (now I feel really old), I’ve come to realize something important. Having a chronic illness has enhanced my life.
Let me count the ways.
1. It’s taught me resilience
Resilience is the ability to be knocked down and get back on the horse that threw you (if you’ll forgive the mixing of metaphors). The endless push-pull of RA flaring and subsiding, taking over your life, only to withdraw again, is like being in training for the Olympics of resilience. Every time you successfully deal with something hard because of a chronic illness — or even just get through it — it teaches you how strong you are.
2. It’s shown me humor in odd places
You’d be surprised how many opportunities for a laugh there is a when you have a chronic illness. Or maybe you wouldn’t — you already know. Whether it’s a moment of gallows humor, laughing in the face of darkness, or seeing the ridiculous in pretty much any situation, it’s all in how you look at it.
3. It’s given me a sturdy sense of dignity
In a lifetime of being poked and prodded, shown off to medical students, and serving as a guinea pig for a variety of strange treatments, very little about the medical side of RA fazes me. You could put me on a stool in the middle of a lecture hall, dressed in one of those oh-so-sexy hospital gowns, and I’d be fine. My sense of dignity no longer depends on what I wear or where I am.
4. It’s taught me to speak up for myself
I very quickly discovered that doctors are busy people who don’t have time for a long, meandering chinwag when I see them. It’s my responsibility to share my experiences of RA and how it affects my life to ensure that these factors are considered in the treatment plan. If I don’t, someone else takes control of my life. It’s my life, my RA, so I’ve put myself in the driver’s seat.
5. It’s made me tenderhearted
The world is too busy to take a moment to recognize pain and despair. I know what it’s like to go through something hard, to be invisible, and alone. RA has taught me that. It has also enabled me to see when others are experiencing hardship and loneliness and to treat them with compassion.
6. It’s given me perspective
Whether it’s being stuck in the slow checkout lane, spending hours on the phone to get the coverage I need for my meds, or the proverbial rain on your wedding day, it’s all small stuff. All of these and so many other situations that can throw others into a tizzy, don’t bother me. Life is about something else entirely.
7. It’s taught me pain isn’t the worst thing that can happen
When you live with chronic pain every day, you learn that there are much worse things than pain. Being part of family celebrations, doing an Awareness Walk, seeing your friend perform in a play, or simply sitting on a bench with your face towards the sun (or in the shade, if that’s more to your liking). Missing these are much worse than being in pain.
8. It’s given me great friends
Throughout my life, I have met many wonderful people who I wouldn’t have known without my illness. Some of them have chronic illnesses, too, others do not. What they have in common is that my experience with RA brought me to a situation where I met them. My life is infinitely richer because of them.
9. It gave me a new country
Thirty years ago, my parents and sister moved to Canada. If I had not had my chronic illness, I would have stayed in Denmark. Because of the disability caused by my RA, I couldn’t find anywhere to live that could give me the help I need to get through the day, so I came to Canada, too. And it is one of the best things that have happened in my life.
10. It’s taught me gratitude
After the flare that almost killed me 10 years ago, I was given back my life by a medication that worked. It taught me the true meaning of joy and I am thankful every day for being alive. I’m thankful for the medication that worked, and for the people I have met since then. I’m thankful for you.
Do you think I’m crazy or are you thankful for your chronic illness, too?
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Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She’s the author ofYour Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.
Lene Andersen is the Community Leader for HealthCentral’s RA Community. Lene (pronounced Lena) is an award-winning writer, health and disability advocate, and photographer living in Toronto. She’s written several books, including Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain, and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain, as well as the award-winning blog, The Seated View. Follow Lene on Twitter @TheSeatedView and on Facebook. Watch her story on HealthCentral.