These are strange days for the world. A viral epidemic has set boundaries on our lives, and cultivated fear in the masses. It’s created an environment where groups and communities compete to set themselves above others, when all of humanity is on equal footing in the face of this outbreak. This is an unprecedented time. Most people have never had to deal with a pandemic. There’s a lot of uncertainty and fear. We wonder when things will go back to normal or is this now the “new normal” that those of us with chronic illness are used to living.
I went out for a walk not long after the directive for self isolating. Public transit vehicles are empty, and traffic has decreased. All non-essential businesses have closed, and writing, theater, and sports events are all cancelled. The streets are bare, except for some walkers and bikers keeping their distance. In a matter of days, the hectic city has slipped into the haunted stillness of a ghost town – and yet, even in the face of all this surface bleakness, there is hope and beauty trickling down through the chaos.
The air is clear and crisp. I can hear the birds trilling in the trees, instead of engines and horns. Cherry blossoms have burgeoned overnight, swathing our neighborhoods in pink snow. There is less pollution in our atmosphere, cleaner oceans, and wildlife returning to places they abandoned years ago. I noticed the life around me was still surging on, despite all the new restrictions placed on our society, and I decided to surge with it. Just like reinventing life with chronic illness, we must now re-imagine our lives in this new world.
So how I am I re-imagining my life? I’m taking all those little things that help me through a flare and giving them a bigger role in my world. I’m reading the books I didn’t make time for, I’m working on my novel, and I’m organizing parts of my apartment. On sunny days, I’m enjoying cold beverages on my patio, watching the gulls chase the eagles, listening to podcasts; on rainy days, I’m snuggling into my heating blanket and watching the movies I always meant to see. I created a You Tube Channel and had a Skype cocktail hour with my “bestie”. I’m working from home, connecting to my communities online, and checking in on my friends and family. My days are still busy, but somehow, I am living a simpler life. Chores and errands don’t seem as irritating as they once did. Schedules feel more flexible and I am more relaxed with the elimination of external distractions. There’s a realm of possibility to explore in our isolation – we just never noticed it in our big bountiful lives.
There are still sunsets to watch, beaches to walk, moonlight to bask in, stars to count, animals to cuddle, and tiny luxuries embedded in our small worlds to savor. It’s up to us to decide what do with that world – as small as we want it to be, as large as we want it to be. This is just another bump in the road and as with all bumps that came before, we will figure out how to drive over them, around them and through them.
I’m always grateful for my life, even today when the stench of fear permeates our neighborhoods and the shadow of human greed skulks around every corner. RA has exposed attributes hidden in my DNA I didn’t know I had. It taught me to be strong, persistent, and resilient, but more important it gave me a new perspective on how to look at my world and sculpt it. My great-grandmother lived through the Spanish Flu, WWI, the Great Depression and WWII. She lived well into her 90’s. We are stronger and more capable of adjusting to change than most of us realize.
This is not the first time we have dealt with adversity and it won’t be the last. It’s a lot of work living with RA or any chronic condition in these strange times, but if we have the strength to live with a chronic condition, we have the potential to discover what we can do with that strength.
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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.