You can feel it coming on, like a storm on the horizon – there’s a charge stirring in the air, a tingling pressure percolating, a sticky warmth coating the body like melted chocolate oozing from a fountain. From the moment you wake, nothing goes right. We miss our bus, we’re late for work, we put our clothes on inside out, we snap at our spouses and our kids, and we snarl at our co-workers, without any real provocation, or at least none that we recognize. Because we carry it every day, we sometimes forget that the burden of chronic illness can influence our mood.
I don’t often complain about arthritis. I have grown accustomed to the terms of my disease and settled into a comfortable routine with the daily grind of life with RA, recognizing my limits and listening to my body – but there are days when I push beyond my limit, try to accomplish too much, and ignore the warning signs, creating the perfect conditions for the arrival of what my partner has affectionately dubbed “grumpy baby.”
Everyone has “grumpy baby” days and anything from stress, fatigue, pain, or a steady stream of petty irritations can set it off – we come home after a long day and discover there’s no hot water; or the wine we have been saving for a special occasion has soured; or our plans of taking a twilight walk with the crunch of autumn leaves beneath our feet has been drowned out by a wet dreary day. I know when “grumpy baby” is present because I feel sore, cranky, irritable and tired. Grumpy baby and RA pain go together like peanut butter and jam. They feed off each other, building like cumulonimbus clouds, and waiting for one inconsequential moment to set off the downpour.
It’s okay to give yourself time to be grumpy baby for a while – just like taking a break, asking for help or setting aside time for yourself. It’s not easy living with the unpredictable disease of RA. Mood and pain are as changeable as the swirling clouds of a tropical storm, luminous and dark, hot and cold, fervent and mild. Most days the symptoms of chronic illness are white noise cycling in the background, but on those mornings when sore and swollen joints match the sable clouds gathering on the skyline, I know that grumpy baby is not far behind – I just find some time to retreat to a quiet place and wait for it to run its course. I know the RA flare will burn out, and grumpy baby will disappear with it, leaving me refreshed in the wake of the storm to once again appreciate my life and all it has to offer.
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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.