The clear fall nights burned out with the glow of October’s the Jack o’ lanterns. Molten clouds flowed in from the Pacific and began their relentless saturation of the land. Twenty-seven days of rain filled thirty days in the month of November. The dense clouds took turns lifting the moisture from the ocean, and mercilessly dropping it onto our heads. Soggy leaves clogged the drains, creating rivers that rushed down the streets, culminating in deep pools of water. The temperature hovered a few degrees above zero, giving the cold rain the extra bite of a possible snowfall. In the bleak hours of morning, a hummingbird makes its daily visit outside my window. For an entire season last year, when all our rain turned to unexpected snow, that little bird sat on a branch outside my window, lingering in the snow-topped trees and in the chill of a frosty morning. The frigid temperatures of a rare winter did not discourage him from flapping his wings and going about his business, right up to the first buds of spring.
November has been more challenging than usual. I’ve had more days of stiffness and pain. The pall of inflammation began to simmer in the first week of rainfall, egging on the stiffness that had been absent in the dry summer months. I woke in the night to flash flares that lingered into dawn, giving me more days of fatigue. Late nights and early mornings disrupted sleep patterns and did little to appease the beast of RA, and yet, there was still work to be done. I was involved in a new theatre project, choreographing a holiday show for a local theatre group. I had to reach back into my previous dance life and step up to the physical challenge of revisiting moves I hadn’t performed in years – and while my body had retained some muscle memory, my joints did not appreciate it. But I pushed on, going to work every day, rehearsing in the evenings and on weekends, working with an amazing cast and shaping the look of a show that opened to a sold-out crowd. The biggest reward for persisting, in spite of a rough November, was knowing partial proceeds from the show were being donated to Cassie and Friends Society for children living with Juvenile Arthritis and other Rheumatic Diseases. I wasn’t about to give up on a such a remarkable project – just like that little hummingbird, I kept going about my business.
That little hummingbird is my role model in the dark days of winter. He reminds me how stoic we must be to persist in our lives, especially when living with RA and other chronic illness. This small creature inspires me when my disease is at its most active. Things are better now. My rehearsals are finished, my job done, and the show is a success. For my partner’s 50th birthday, we indulged in a spa day, with massage and soothing steam baths to cool the sting of my joints. This morning the soggy land was finally given a kiss by the sun, reminding me that I have little to complain about even on my worst days. The storm of upcoming holidays is approaching, but I know that I have the strength to keep flapping my wings and still find time for a little self-care. I have the comforts of life to fall back on, a good job, a roof over my head, a partner that is my number one cheerleader, friends and family who support all my crazy endeavours, and the opportunity to get up every morning, no matter how stiff my joints may be, and live a bold and creative life.
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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.