At dusk the stars ignite, peeking out from behind wispy clouds suspended against an inky sky. The city lights are reflected in the smooth glass of the ocean’s surface, a mirage of green, red, and blue. Their fiery colors become more vivid as nightfall advances; in the wee hours of dawn, white crests form on the waves as the wind gusts in, and black clouds gather on the horizon dousing the red sky. A heaviness permeates the air, just waiting for the storm to break.
It’s no coincidence that I have always compared RA to a gathering storm. It blows in suddenly, wreaks havoc and then blows out, leaving us to clean up the mess. I am sometimes granted occasional periods of mercy, interludes of easy mornings with diminished swelling, little stiffness and an increase in energy – but in the midst of that stillness, I am always conscious that another surge is silently brewing. The warning signs are subtle, but I have come to know them well – that rapid flush of heat in the joints, an overwhelming thickness bearing down on my body, a slight fever percolating beneath the skin, just waiting for the embers to catch.
During times of stress there is a higher risk of a low pressure system developing and when I feel the storm clouds of RA gathering, I take shelter. It can be hard to pause and take a break once the squall of the holiday season makes landfall, but it’s a necessary breather. The eye of the storm allows for moments of calm before breaking, offering me time to catch up on the torrent of life left in the wake of work, family theatre rehearsals and performance; time for modest deeds like housework, decorating, reading that novel I bought two months ago, beginning a new story, holiday shopping or just sitting in a coffee shop and observing the flurry of life around me; a simple time to enjoy silent nights warmed by the colors of the season, and perhaps indulge in a nip of cinnamon whiskey or spiced rum.
The pulse of life never stays quiet for long – I can feel the charge in the air, an animated electricity hovering in the glow of colored lights, the frenzy of crowded markets, and the unique merriment eminent in this season. Just as life has its period of grace, RA has its calm before the storm, and in those moments I take advantage of time and energy, carefully monitoring the changeable weather system within me. I have learned how to endure the storms of RA – and as the surge of the holiday season approaches, I will weather it with good cheer, knowing that once it breaks, I can rejuvenate in the solace of the eye, ready to face the next low pressure system.
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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.