The Pursuit of Happyness When Part of Your Life Is Called Rheumatoid Arthritis
Waiting to start a new treatment, the past few weeks, I’ve had a crazy idea. If the treatment works, I might “forget” how it was. So maybe I should do something I’ve never done: take an inventory. A couple years ago, a patient commented that she does a brief inventory of her joints with her husband every morning. I’ve always remembered that, but never done it.
The Pursuit of Happyness is one of my favorite movies. Despite the sad parts, I love watching Chris Gardner (Will Smith) hold fiercely to his determination that things will improve. As adversities multiply, he sincerely perseveres through all the “parts” of his life till he reaches the one he calls “happiness.” I’m hoping a new “part” begins soon and maybe if I think of my disease in terms of the movie, I can bring myself to make that inventory list.
The part of my life called “Wonder Woman” “Normal”
Any mountain can be moved, one shovelful at a time, right? So I could accomplish anything by working just a little harder or staying up a little later. I was delighted to successfully juggle as many balls as possible. Year after year, I homeschooled, landscaped, volunteered, remodeled, exercised, cooked, and sewed. But I also filled our lives with play and recreation, arranging picnics, field trips, road trips, and days on the beach. We had little money in those years so I made every meal, even on the road, as well as Christmas gifts and Valentines. The house usually looked like I was ready for a magazine shoot and the freezer was always full. This part could also be called “homemade soup.”
There was illness, but it was transient. Joint flares occurred after each child, but they didn’t slow me down. One time the thyroid disease was out of control and I couldn’t function. But after a several months, it passed.
This part of my life, this part right here, this part is called “Shock.”
When Roo was six months old, the joint symptoms came on like a storm and never really subsided. With them came rashes, fever, and black circles on my toes. After a couple of months and a couple of indifferent doctors, I was diagnosed: “Rheumatoid Arthritis.”
Searching. Reading. Crying. Any of those words could define this time. Functional loss was immediate. The pain was, as a thousand patients have told me, like no other pain. I could only compare the worst joint pain to natural childbirth or a slipped disc.
This part of my life, this part right here is called “Fighting.”
The first thing to swell up and change forever was my feet. The podiatrist who treated my feet helped me find a better rheumatologist. Three other people called on my behalf since the practice was full. We also had to change insurance, but I finally saw the doctor and got a prescription.
By then “it” had spread to enough joints that I couldn’t do many daily tasks. I needed help to take care of my one year old Roo. I hated both of my options: take methotrexate (wean the baby, no more children, and live the rest of your life on medications) OR continue to be less able every day (I couldn’t wash my hair or put socks on my son). I decided to fight as hard as I could to get my life back. And that is how I’ve spent the past seven years of my life.
Which prevails: Unrelenting disease or pursuing “Happiness”?
A prominent rheumatologist wrote to me a few years ago about RA that “Some few are crushed by it, some succeed and are happy in spite of it… it is difficult to have a chronic illness, and for some people it is too much to handle.” I didn’t fully agree with him because physical symptoms are sometimes perceived as personal weakness. Apart from pain, most people experience a loss of function that can be hard to comprehend from the outside. It’s incorrectly perceived as giving up. Whether or not depression affects some of us, I see most fight hard to get as much of their lives back as possible, including happiness. I’m proud to count myself as a “typical RA patient” when it comes to that.
I’ve spoken to and cared about so many people who’ve had this disease steal from them the life or job or spouse they loved – and keep on fighting. And if you’ll read comments on this site, you’ll see what fighters we are – like Chris Gardner. We persevere when it comes to life and happiness, because the disease has taught us at least this much.We persevere when it comes to life & happiness, because RD has taught us at least this much Click To Tweet
Now, the brief awkward moment of my life called “Inventory”: I’ll work on my inventory and maybe post that in a couple days. Stay tuned. And keep pursuing health and “happyness.”
Note: TOMORROW is the first Rheumatoid Awareness Day. Many are creating local activities, but if you can’t do so, you don’t need to go anywhere to participate. Read here and here about how you can be involved and make a difference. Today, February 1, there will be a Facebook chat at 1 p.m. EST here.
More movie parallels
- The Next Three Days: a Movie Review with a Twist
- It’s Just Pain, Right? No, Dr. No, It’s Not
- RA is Tricksy: Wandering by The Two Towers
- Dr. Dolittle and the Rheumatoid Arthritis Specialist
NOTE: Your comments are an important resource for future readers of this post in the months to come. Please find the comment link below each post.Kelly Young. All rights reserved.