When I was 18, my family took a vacation in Panamà to visit my late brother’s in-laws. We met and interacted with the huge extended family, many of whom lived in the small (to us) town of Santiago. My sister-in-law, Ana, had an uncle in a wheelchair who made a remarkable impact on me. He had been a musician, he needed to depend on his family to transport him places, but he was still mentally independent and had a heart of gold. He was somewhere in between the ages of my parents, but to my 18-year-old eyes he looked ancient. He was curled up in his chair, physically incapable of doing many things, and looked tired and haggard. He had rheumatoid arthritis. And for many years I was left in fear of that disease, and what it could turn me into. I didn’t know that it was very likely I already had it.
For years I assumed my aches and pains were due to arthritis. The “normal” kind where joints are inflamed, generally due to years of minor injuries. But a couple years ago I started hurting all over, where I had never had injuries, where there weren’t even joints. After some research I learned some enlightening information: rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is different because it’s inflammation of connecting tissues in the body, not joints, and not due to injury. RA is an auto-immune disease with no cure, with the only “treatment” being pain management. I didn’t bother to go to a doctor and have him or her tell me I was right and tell me what I could learn myself. That I’m fucked, and it’s because of how I was born. Nothing anyone did and nothing I’ve done to myself caused this. And it won’t go away.
For about a week, I was comforted. I hadn’t done anything wrong, I couldn’t blame anyone for causing me harm. I merely hurt all over, constantly, and it just was.
So I researched what I could do to postpone any pain medication, because the Aleve I was consuming like candy was probably going to give me ulcers, and who needs that? And I found good suggestions for help: yoga, probiotics, better sleep. Through my homeopathic lifestyle, I got on a good life plan to help myself.
But life gets crazy, and this spring it got really crazy. I ran out of probiotics and didn’t have time to go to the store for more. Time got short, and I kept postponing my yoga to “tomorrow”, which as we know never arrives. For a month, my life was too lifey to take care of my life.
When you’re accustomed to chronic pain, you incorporate it into your life. Mix it with chronic depression and things get really fucked up. My body was making my mind suffer. The depressed lows were lower, and the highs were more like low middles.
In the last week I finally got to the store, and today I finally forced myself to make time to yoga. Partway through my yoga session I started bawling. Because I finally, after a long time, felt better. Like a human. Like I could stand up and walk without waiting a minute after standing (standing is the worst part) for the pain to subside.
While I was crying, all the fear of becoming Ana’s uncle rushed in. The fear of having something classified as “auto-immune”. The fear of this being my life forever. The fear of what my life could become. The fear of what I will be when I die. All at once, when my body felt better, I could clearly see what hurt the worst, the deepest pain I have yet experienced, was the fear.
It’s still there. But I can recognize it for what it is. I’m not accustomed to fear; it’s not been a standard aspect of my life. So my self-prescribed health plan has to now include: probiotics, yoga, good sleep, be prepared but UNAFRAID.
Oh, and alcohol. My research also showed that one alcoholic drink per day can reduce the inflammation. I should drink more.