Rheumatoid disease is unique to each of us. Managing symptoms from day-to-day can be challenging, but we are fortunate to access a community of shared advice, and we can adopt suggestions from others and mould them into our own strategy. There are many ways I manage – hot bubble baths and rest, massage therapy and heating pads, treating myself to little luxuries, and using techniques from physiotherapy such as two bowls, two hands and a towel.
I think one of the best strategies I have developed is recognizing when I need to give myself a break. A flare day is my body’s way of telling me to take a day to myself, to recharge and restore. In the beginning, I was frustrated by these days, always thinking of the tasks that would be delayed – but now I use them as creative stimulus and take the time to enjoy the small pleasures in life. This post from a couple of years back best describes days like these…
I heard the pitter-patter rhythm hitting the pavement, the swish of rubber tires through pooling water, the splatter of drops against the window under a sombre light. I could almost hear the hiss of moisture kissing the parched ground, dressing the leaves and flowers in shimmering beads of liquid. It’s the first time in almost three months the blue sky has been colored with the pewter of a moist winter sky. I’ve watched our greenery dwindle into brittle wasteland, feeding the fires as they sweep the waterless forests. I have been bound by smoky days and nights, highlighting the hidden fragility of my disease. Forecasters promised respite from the arid climate and we patiently waited beneath bloated clouds teasing our thirst. On the first morning of rain in over three months, I lay in bed listening to the forgotten music of raindrops, bogged down by swollen joints filled with precipitation.
It was a flare typical of a wicked damp winter, except it arrived in the midst of a summer drought. I had not had one in almost three months. The burn of RA had withered under a rare season of extreme heat until plump clouds arrived to deliver the chill of a coveted cloudburst and ease the burn of Mother Nature – in a cruel twist, the cool rain ignited my joints like kindling to a flame. But I haven’t battled this disease over the years without learning how to take advantage of the unexpected.
I have developed my own strategy for days like this – my own arthritis emergency kit, if you will, consisting of books, movies, hot water bottles, notebooks, fragrant teas, Epsom salts, aromatherapy and a snug blanket. When an arthritis flare brings my hectic world to a halt, it does not stop me from discovering the charming luxuries life has to offer. I accept it as the break my body is telling me I need. I get to pause and take pleasure in the small things I can’t always fit into my usual routine. I take this time to get lost in stories I will one day write, to escape into the opulent lives of characters on the screen, to savour the sweet flavour of my tea, to lounge in tepid waters laced with a heady scent while the rain freshens the steamy earth. It is part of the new rhythm of my life with RA. A flare day is my day to recharge, to remind myself that life is a tenuous dance and when the rhythm changes, I must be ready to follow its lead. Therein lies the blessings of the unexpected flare.
There will be days like this. There will be days when arthritis kicks me in my proverbial rear. I can’t avoid them, I can’t even predict when they will happen, but I can appreciate them for what they are – a reminder that even when the clouds come in, there are still ways of finding small pleasures in a life with arthritis.
“Be still, sad heart, and cease repining; Behind the clouds is the sun still shining; Thy fate is the common fate of all, Into each life some rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
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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.