The drug commercials like to show couples walking on the beach with a dog (it's always a beach with a dog), but real RA is not like that. The image of remission is a return to sparkling health with no lasting effects, but real RA is not like that. This is the first in new series of posts about the ways RA affects your life, the unvarnished version.
Last week, Kelly over at RA Warrior tweeted a link to a post about the silly things people with RA say. It’s a brilliant list of the overly optimistic things that come out of our mouths, such as committing to being somewhere early in the day (impossible because it takes a while to get going when you have RA) or the "me do it" ridiculousness that inevitably brings about a flare in symptoms.
Opening jars - or rather, the inability to do so - is often mentioned as the ultimate example in frustration, smacking into your limits and plain humiliation. For Kelly, it's not a jar, it's a set of heavy blinds. For me, it's changing batteries in various electronic doodads. I can deal with a few – my camera and the remote controls - but most of the time, changing batteries is beyond me. Well, the actual digging batteries out and putting batteries in is usually doable, but getting the blasted cover off whatever contraption I'm wrestling with is impossible. It's an annoyance, but what's the big deal? I have attendants coming in to help me, I have friends and family around and in the last couple of years, The Boy has been a wonderful addition to my life, not just emotionally, but practically, as well. So far, so good. But there's one thing you can't ask just anyone to help you with, especially in those single pre-boyfriend years.
Doctors don’t like acknowledging that we’re sexual beings, but just because you have a chronic illness or disability doesn't mean other bits of you have gone to sleep. However, when your hands, elbows and shoulders are wrecked by RA, technical assistance can be necessary during moments of getting in touch with your baser instincts. So I did what any liberated modern woman would do: found an accessible and disability-friendly “adult” store, dragged a friend along with me and giggled my way through a conversation with the salesperson to find the best vibrator for me. Did you know that the best way of checking whether the intensity of a vibrator is right for you, you should buzz the area between nose and mouth? It’s amazing what you learn in such places…
Fast forward for quite a while to a time where it became apparent that my new friend needed a change of batteries. I did what I usually do and tried opening the infernal battery compartment and not surprisingly, couldn’t. And that was the start of an extended thought process in which I considered every single person I knew for the role of potential Vibrator Battery Changer (VBC).
My mother. Are you kidding me? We have an excellent relationship, even make jokes about sex every now and again, but ask my MOTHER to be VBC?? No. Can’t. Need therapy now. Lots of therapy. She probably does, too.
My sister. A definite candidate, but she lives in another city and doesn’t visit too often. When she does, it's for family events and her husband’s with her. "Excuse me, family and John, I need to borrow my sister for a private moment while we exchange batteries in my vibrator. That I have brought with me to this family lunch. In my purse." Nope. Doesn't work.
Attendants. Well, they are supposed to help me with tasks I can’t do myself, so theoretically they’d be good candidates. However, they are also notoriously incapable of keeping stuff to themselves and this? Would be really excellent gossip. I’m not prepared for the entire staff, female and male, knowing I have a vibrator and, based on the need to change batteries, that I have used it. Just. Not.
Friendly neighbour who occasionally helps me out with various practical tasks. Nope. Not going there. So not. Considered and eliminated within a nanosecond. Above and beyond good neighbourship.
Friends. Well. Hrm. Alright then. What kind of friend could you ask this? Someone close, someone with whom you’ve shared deep dark secrets, someone who is comfortable with the topic of sex, will keep it to themselves and after the deed is done, is capable of pretending it never happened. I had several candidates.
The perfect candidate was my best friend - we've shared decades of ups and downs. And after all, a really good girlfriend is someone who’ll hold your hair when you throw up after having had too many drinks because you saw your ex with his new girlfriend, right? (I think I’ve watch too much Sex and the City - this has never happened to me and not just because my hair is short enough to be out of the way on its own) However, she was a single mother with a full-time job and we didn't see each other much in person, so I had to move on. Somewhat belatedly, it was becoming clearly to me that I had to add another selection criteria: lives in town and visits regularly. At the time, most friends fitting this description were men.
Some people say men and women can be friends, that sex is always in the way and I don't agree. However, asking your heterosexual male friend to change the battery in your vibrator would definitely put sex right in there, leading right to potentially awkward moments. Male friend w/partner? Thankfully, a lot of women get that men and women can be friends and adopt their partners’ female friends as their own. Still, this could be crossing the line (really? You think??). Gay male friend? Not a bad option, as long as you could get over that thing about asking a friend to do this. Which, as you may have gathered by now, was well nigh impossible for me.
It took a while, but in the end, I did ask a friend. Who to this day blessedly pretends it never happened.