In the tranquil days between the winter solstice and the advent of a New Year, I can feel the events of the past crackling in the air, preparing to slip away into memory, only to be revived in wistful moments of reminiscence. Another year has passed, another year of grappling with RA, sometimes winning, sometimes losing – but amid the patchwork quilt of life with chronic illness are many squares of accomplishments.
I travelled to Nevada and lost myself, and RA, in the enigmatic beauty of the desert; I had the honour of sharing my story with Arthritis Research Canada; I returned to the stage and fought through two physically demanding shows; I enjoyed a reprieve in an unusually dry summer where my disease was sedated by the heat; I met new people and made new friends; I learned how to keep my body moving and how to exercise without putting extra stress on my joints; I learned that a bad with arthritis was my body telling me to take a break and that I am allowed to do so; I learned how to use flare days to my advantage; but most important, I learned that RA does not dictate the course of my life.
At the time of my diagnosis, a stone began rolling carving out new roads for me. It was not a route I would have chosen, but I followed it and it led me to doors I would never think to knock on. I learned how to manipulate the direction of my stone, and erode unique paths for myself. I asked myself, if given the opportunity, would I travel back in time and change the outcome of my journey? There’s no doubt I would love to go back and not be diagnosed with RA – but a rolling stone can’t roll uphill, and I take comfort in knowing that I would not have accomplished the same things with the same results. I would have missed out on the fulfilment of victories that only life with chronic illness can provide – and it’s not a bad thing – those failures and victories make me the person I am today.
I have accomplished as much as I could have this past year, and I will continue to follow the course of the rolling stone, changing its direction when it starts to lose momentum. There’s always something exciting and mysterious about entering a new year. All the things that happened in the past lose a bit more of their significance because they are complete – they are pictures we can’t change, but the future is an endless highway, full of possibility. It’s strange to think that without RA I wouldn’t have travelled this often intimidating, sometimes risky road or been given the same opportunities. RA was the catalyst that broke my safety net and launched me into this rite of passage, forcing me to make the best with what I have.
It’s time to change the tide of my life and embark on a new routine, and what better time than during the winter solstice as life and light begins to return to the earth. Every year I face new challenges and find ways around the limitations of RA. I will continue to share my experience, although with less frequency so that I may cultivate other parts of my life, and carve out new paths to projects that have patiently been waiting in the wings. I will never be gone for long. This blog, its readers and all the people with whom I’ve connected remain close to my heart – it pushed me through the rough days and opened the door to buried dreams. I intend to continue to nourish it as I move forward, filling the pages of another year with swollen joints, determination, success, failure, and the hope that we will all find a way to take control of the steering wheel and change the direction of life with RA.
Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year, filled with wellness and happiness.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.