We had been climbing for about 30 minutes. I looked up the twisting trail, seeing only the shrubs and trees that dressed the path on either side. Large roots stuck out from the dirt, promising a graceless fall to the unfortunate shoe caught up in their gnarled grip. It was still a long climb to the top scattered with bits of granite peeping through the dirt. We hiked our way up, stepping aside for others to pass; we sipped from our water bottles to stay hydrated, moving at our own pace, careful of our footing, until we reached a clearing. Off to the side was a flinty plateau with bits of plant life poking up between the cracks in the rock. We rested, gazing out over the tree tops and the lush valley below. Eagles soared close above our heads; we could almost reach up and touch the cobalt of the summer sky. This was where we stayed, lingering under the unruffled heavens…
Sometimes you reach a plateau, get settled and drift into a comfortable state. It’s easy to stay where there are no bumps or barriers to overcome. We grow to accept this circumstance as normal, happy because we think we have taken control of the wildcard we call arthritis. We linger in a familiar condition of discomfort, thrilled that nothing is getting worse, unaware that nothing is getting better. We somehow miss the fact that we aren’t progressing. Our bodies remain stagnant, content not to proceed. Somewhere in the back of our mind, the speck of knowledge that things could be better eludes us like a butterfly from a net; we don’t look too hard because we are bound by the deceptive comfort that things are not deteriorating.
This false relief manifests with arthritis or any chronic disease. We become accustomed to staying in one place. We spend months trying to find the therapy that relieves our symptoms but we don’t always recognize it when it stops working, leaving our boots stuck in the mire of our own body. One day, my treatment simply reached its plateau and halted beneath the skies of ease. As the end of summer arrived, and the changing colors of fall moved in, a flare erupted and persisted for several days. I woke to longer periods of stiffness, identifying its significance by comparing it against the discomfort to which I was accustomed. I had become complacent. I booked an appointment with my specialist and explained my predicament – I was still making an effort to live a healthy lifestyle, exercising and sticking to a healthy diet, but I was experiencing more pain and fatigue. The break I had been granted when I thought I’d found the right combination had abandoned me. My medication was increased and I found myself right back on that twisting trail.
I have started climbing that hill again. I’m looking forward to leaving the flatlands behind me – I hear the view is far better from the top.
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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.