The frost glistens in the moonlight, dancing with colour beneath the holiday lights. The darkest part of the year sheds its own beauty on a cold winter night. A hot cuppa soothes my cold hands as I look out on a sleeping world. As we creep towards the light of the winter solstice, I reflect on the last year and count my victories and blessings.
Rheumatoid Arthritis has been with me through every season – sometimes its presence is strong, but mostly it has been like a shadow in the background. I’ve worked hard to keep it there, staying active, eating right, resting when I needed too – as the years pass, my RA no longer takes centre stage. It flickers silently behind the scenes, like a stage light fading to black.
2023 has been an exhilarating ride with many changes to embrace – my day job of many years came to an end, I travelled to London, researched family history for a book and walked in the footsteps of my ancestors, and I returned to the stage after a four-year hiatus undertaking one of the most challenging and rewarding achievements choreographing thirty-three songs in a musical. My creative life has been through some transformations, but still it remains, holding dominion over my disease in a steady unwavering fashion, and I never take it for granted.
December is a hectic time of year, especially during the holidays, but it can also be an opportunity to take some time for myself, dipping into those little pockets of quiet moments where I can look back at the last year and build on what I started. A new year, a fresh start is always full of promise. Looking back at each previous year, inspires me to move forward with confidence and grace, and examine what I did right, where I went wrong and what I learned.
Living with RA or any chronic illness is a constant learning curve. I look back only to go forward. I take strength from my accomplishments, washing my failures away like dirty water down the drain. There will always be setbacks, especially when living with a chronic condition, but they don’t hold power over me anymore, and there is always a win to claim in every moment, even if I don’t recognize it right away.
The mornings are dark and cold before the winter solstice and the return to the light. The glow from outdoor lights on our patio light up the room from the outside. The traffic on the road beyond the high hedges has slowed to a trickle. I look up into bright luminous clouds casting silhouettes over the earth – behind them the starlight burns, ready to break through to the season of light where challenges of a new calendar year await. I take respite in the dark season, in those quiet moments, embracing the space between a new season and the old, the darkness and the light. In that space I look back on the past year, take power from my modest triumphs and use it to light the way into a New Year.
Happy Yule, Happy Christmas, Happy Winter – whatever you celebrate, embrace a new season, and let it take you up and out of the darkness.
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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.