Just over a year ago, on December 31st of 2019, my husband and I returned home from our yearly getaway to Las Vegas, the last international trip we took before the world changed. At that time Covid was still a distant ghost in the headlines, something far away and across the seas. Shortly after returning home, we both fell ill with what we assumed was a bad cold or flu. We recovered and carried on and then came the news that faraway ghost was spreading across the globe at an alarming rate. We wondered if we were Covid survivors – but of course we’ll never know, and in the months that followed, it didn’t matter anymore. What mattered was how we would adjust to living in a pandemic world.
In the first weeks of spring, when the world was blooming to life, a temporary shutdown forced us into hibernation. I had to shift my routines, figure out how to adjust working from home while juggling an artistic and personal life. It was challenging to shift gears and try to fit in all the little details of my day into an insulated world. The wedding we were supposed to have hung like a question mark in the air as we tried to predict if it could go ahead as planned. I was so consumed with trying to maintain as normal a life as possible, the discomfort of RA was completely eclipsed by the pall of uncertainty.
The summer months brought us a temporary reprieve from restrictions and uncovered little gems undulating beneath the surface. Our cases were low enough that we were encouraged to spent time outdoors with our family, travel within our province to support the lagging tourist economy and support local businesses – so we did exactly that. We enjoyed some nights in wine country and spent a few days on the coast. We walked along the beach, read books, and watched the sun set from our private patio.
We took advantage of a quieter life enjoying the things in our own backyard. My creativity blossomed, I wrote more, and published again. Our wedding wasn’t the one we had planned, but it turned out to be exactly what I wanted. I tried new healthier recipes and started walking to and from work. I did yoga in the mornings and went cycling on the weekends. My RA was never so well controlled as it was in the summer of 2020. The winter months saw us tucked away close to home again, and RA made a brief resurgence, but it’s now just a shadow that waxes and wanes in the light of each new day.
It hasn’t been easy to give up our luxuries and the easy freedom of visiting family and friends. It’s been even tougher to combat the isolation from community and adjust to a new way of managing our disease in a capricious world. Some parts of my life are packed away like a forgotten box under a dusty wool blanket in the attic. I have no idea when I’ll be able to open that box again, but it doesn’t seem to matter. I don’t take for granted the things I have right now in this moment of uncertainty, because that’s really all it is in the long run – a moment.
2020 was a year of tough challenges, but it was also filled with unexpected surprises that rippled across the pandemic surface. It will still be a while before we see the changes we want. There is hope on the horizon, but like everything worth waiting for it will take time to reach it. 2020 brought out my determination to keep living boldly in an altered world with chronic illness. I hope in 2021, we all find a way to live boldly, keep moving forward, enjoy the little things, and look for those ripples along the surface – one day, they will become waves.
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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.