It was my first time in a new city alone. I hailed a cab from the airport and gave the driver the address. We weaved and bobbed through pockets of congested streets darkened by looming skyscrapers. I stepped out of the cab clutching my bag, catching scant glimpses of sky between soaring buildings. The air was thick with harried energy and the heat of idling cars. The familiar open energy of my small west coast city was miles away. I walked past several identical looking structures, searching for signs at each intersection. I pulled a map from my bag, watching its neatly compressed structure explode into a large pleated grid. Lakes, roads, and land masses swelled before my eyes. I studied it, finding my path through the myriad of pathways skirting the inner city. My joints pulsed with the pounding rhythm of the city as I snaked my way through the throng towards my destination.
Travelling to a new place can be a bit mystifying – so can weaving your way through the streets of chronic illness. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were maps for arthritis? You could plot out comfortable routes to avoid the mountain of inflammation or the canyon of flares, and travel nonstop to the cave of respite. Unfortunately, arthritis isn’t designed that way. Arthritis is more like an erratic taxi driver leading a perplexed tourist down endless streets, taking longer than necessary to reach their destination. Each new ailment will have you wandering down a road beset with four-way stops at every corner without any indication of which direction to take. It’s frustrating, never knowing which way to turn. How do I recognize a flare? How do I manage fatigue? How often should I see my specialist? How long will my medication take to work? What are my new limitations? The questions come quicker than answers. In an impatient world rocked by the convenience of technology, it’s difficult to accept that it takes a while to adjust to the ebb and flow of life with RA. Arthritis never manifests exactly the same way. We need to take up the responsibility of creating our own compass through the roads of our disease. It can take some time to find the rhythm. Along the way, you will intersect with others, adding to the continually developing range of your journey. You will learn to ride the swells and dips of disease as effortlessly as a flat wide-open country road.
It took time to find my way, but after a while, I became accustomed to the new territory of my life. And I have faith that one day, I’ll have the chance to stray off the course of my regular path and travel into that unchartered territory known as the state of remission. I’ll have to learn how to navigate all over again – but this time I know I’ll enjoy the journey.
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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.