The annual ARThritis Soiree was only a couple weeks away and I needed a new dress for the occasion. The ARThritis Soiree is an elegant inspirational evening hosted by Arthritis Research Canada that combines different forms of art in conjunction with supporting arthritis research and raising awareness of the many types of inflammatory arthritis thousands of people live with everyday. A few years ago, I was honored to share my own story at this event and help raise essential funds for ongoing arthritis research. Since that time, I’ve attended as a guest to cheer on other arthritis warriors, such as Olympic snowboarder Spencer O’Brien and 15-year-old Elise who has already endured multiple surgeries.
Shopping for the dress was more challenging than I anticipated. I don’t like shopping at the best of times, although my dislike for shopping has more to do with impatience and time than with arthritis, although RA has been giving me some trouble in that department. I went to a local store and a lovely salesclerk led me to a tiny cubicle with a selection of carefully chosen dresses. I picked one, inspected it, couldn’t see any zippers or buttons, so I assumed I had to pull it over my head. I pulled it part way over my head, but couldn’t navigate it past my shoulders, and even though I was assured it was the right size, I didn’t want to force it. My arms were trapped within its body-hugging material, and my shoulder began to ache. I couldn’t manoeuvre it over my torso. As I stood there entangled in material, I imagined the loud tearing of the delicate (and expensive) fabric if I continued, so I gave up. The same happened with each dress I picked up – I was getting frustrated, and my dislike for shopping started to swell.
I exited the dressing room and the clerk asked how it went. I wanted to say “fine thank-you” but then I’d be leaving the store without a dress – instead I took a breath, explained to her that I had RA and was having some difficulty trying them on. She offered to help, and I accepted. It turned out a couple of the dresses had zippers, but they were so small I didn’t see them and couldn’t grip them. She chose a classic vintage-style dress and easily manoeuvred it over my head – the dress tumbled effortlessly over my body. It was perfect and I never would have known if I hadn’t accepted her help.
Dressing is one of many tasks’ RA alters. It’s become a bit more of a challenge for me in the last couple of years – my fingers don’t grip the buttons or zippers quite as well as they used to, my range of motion has decreased, and a rotator cuff injury in my left shoulder has made it difficult to put on shirts and jackets without the aid of my partner. Sometimes it feels uncomfortable to ask for help because we think it’s a basic task we should be able to do for ourselves, but it’s no different than asking someone to open a jar or take down a heavy dish from the kitchen cupboard. If you don’t live with anyone that can help, you can ask your specialist to refer you to an occupational therapist who can provide tips and tricks on how to manage basic tasks at home.
RA makes us courageous by asking for support. We always asked for help when we were children – in adulthood we lost that simple wisdom, but with chronic illness it’s important to reclaim it, to embrace that fearlessness and self-assurance. I reached out, got what I needed and even treated myself to a pair of dainty silver shoes with wedge heels.
It’s difficult to bend to the whims of chronic illness, but our bodies and minds are made to be adaptable, and it’s up to us to take that power and use it to our advantage.
As for the dress, the unveiling will take place in a matter of days…and I’ll be back to share the evening with you.
In the meantime, stay well my friends.
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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.