The rains have arrived on the back of the cast-off leftovers of a tropical hurricane, drenching the west coast after a summer of drought. The wind pushes against the windows at night, the moisture clouds the glass, the cloying pressure swirls around my joints once again. In the morning, the sun teases us with a glimpse of its golden light, coloring the clouds with burnished ginger, lighting the ruddy leaves of autumn in the mists of daybreak.
The cooler months always pose more of a challenge – I have longer periods of stiffness in the mornings, I wake more often at night with the discomfort of inflammation, I have more fatigue, my knees are puffy, my fingers swollen – but I am ready to carry on with the new silhouette of my life. I have learned to accept and be grateful for the things I can do, rather than focussing on what I can’t. RA taught me not to take for granted the most basic things in life – walking, opening a jar, wearing rings, tying shoelaces, turning a key, gripping a handle, opening a door. The simplest things hold the most power over our lives, and I have discovered how to appreciate the random triumphs of each one. I learned how to test the boundaries of my new limits, made adjustments when necessary and embraced new activities that are no less satisfying than the ones I left behind.
Despite the advent of crisp mornings that summon the return of the biting inflammation of RA, I am prepared to immerse myself in the canvas of a new season, taking pleasure in the fragrance of the charred smoke from toiling chimneys, enjoying the kaleidoscopic hues of the painted leaves and the tangy scent of the cranberry bogs infusing the air. It is Thanksgiving weekend and I have much to celebrate. I am grateful for having had a temporary reprieve thanks to an unusually arid summer, giving me the gift of an increase in energy and the diminished presence of RA for a few months. I returned to the stage in a physically demanding show, enjoyed some trips to the Naramata Valley of B.C and visited the blushing canyons of Nevada; I swam, I walked, I participated in a specialized pool class where I mastered a new method of physical challenges, and I revelled in ephemeral pockets of forgetfulness. I rediscovered traces of my power before the arrival of RA and found a way to draw upon them when needed.
With all the complications this disease can bring, it has not won. I am fortunate to possess the imagination to transform its ruthless shadow, and shape it to the contours of my life. There are many years of good days, bad days, accomplishments and struggles to come – but this weekend I will sit at the table with loved ones, surrounded by good food and wine, and be thankful for all I have, and all I have yet to achieve.
Happy Thanksgiving. Wishing everyone a plentiful season filled with health, happiness and the courage to persevere.
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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.