Some time ago, I saw an image on Facebook about RA. Thanks to my fibro fog, I no longer remember who shared it in which group, but even if I did, I wouldn't disclose it. Because I am about to vehemently disagree and there's no need to get flame-y.
This is the image
And I have issues.
So, because I have RA, apparently I have only two options about how I feel on any given day. I can feel either mildly weepy or lie prostrate on the divan drowning in my own tears. It seems that having RA eliminates the possibility of any form of happiness or even just feeling meh. Instead, the diagnosis dooms us to a life of suffering, depression and forever leaking salt water out of our eyes.
Huh. No one ever told me this. Is it a new requirement?
Getting diagnosed with a chronic illness is hard. There's no getting around the fact that there's going to be crying. It is a normal part of grieving the loss of health, the state of innocence in which most people live where they take their abilities and lack of pain for granted. And there's no getting around the fact that living with a chronic illness is also not always a picnic. In fact, there are days where you are mildly weepy and there are other days where are you are a lot weepy. There are days where you hate your new existence, the disease that brought it about, the pain, the medications, the side effects and the fact that there will never, ever be a vacation from RA. Never again will you not have it. You may have remission or low disease activity, but it will always be there, lurking in the wings. Sometimes it pounces, sometimes it lays dormant.
This is a given.
It is also a given that so much of getting on with the business of your life is about attitude. It is about getting up in the morning and deciding that RA (or whatever) is not going to rule your life. It is about realizing that you have RA, RA doesn't have you. It is about remembering that you have a life and it comes first - you may have to live it differently, but it is still there to be lived nonetheless.
We all live with challenges. Some of us have to raise our kids without a partner, some of us have chronic pain and some don't have a job. Focusing on what we don't have, hating the situation that we're in becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, keeping us mired in despair and unable to find a way out. Hating a particular part of your life puts on blinders, makes it impossible to see the other parts that are still good, that can still bring you joy. Hating a particular part of your life narrows the definition of your life to just that aspect, making you just a woeful single parent, just an RA patient or just someone who is unemployed.
None of us are just one thing, just one part, just sorrow. None of us can live in despair all the time - moving on is hardwired into our biology or we wouldn't strive towards it. Sooner or later, the sun shines brightly again, we laugh again and we find a way to cope. And opening ourselves up to this mysterious and built-in movement towards coping is essential. Because once we find a way to cope, what used to make us weepy is now bearable and then becomes just life. And we move on and we become yet again multifaceted and dive into life one way or another. Sometimes we weep, but other times we laugh or think or debate and we get a grip on things and figure out a way to live with them.
What dooms you to a life of suffering is not the disease. What dooms you is believing that having RA leaves only two possibilities: to be sad or to be desperate. Because it closes the door on everything else you are, everything else your life can be. It makes your life about a negative instead of positive, about cannot instead of can.
I remember a handful of things from my first year psychology course and one of them is the professor telling the class that all the psychology you'll ever need can be found in Shakespeare. Could be that he was right, because the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw that graphic on Facebook was a quote from Hamlet: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Once you know that, the rest comes naturally.