What is that saying? When it rains it pours? Never truer than in our misty coastal city, where winters consist of a string of overcast days dripping with Mother Nature’s tears. This winter, our mild climate was usurped by an unusual bout of bitter arctic air transforming our rain-soaked days into blasts of mini-snowstorms. Our mild temperatures plunged below zero giving us west coast folk a real taste of northern winter. Our city was not prepared to tackle icy roadways, and drivers and residents alike had to learn how to navigate on the new terrain of snow and ice. Little did I know I was also about to undergo a new navigation within the terrain of my own body.
RA reared her ugly head in the winter blast. My joints flared up again along with a new pain ripping along the right side of my body – a sharp radiating pain that ran from my upper back thru my hip, into my leg. It didn’t feel like RA pain – it was an entirely different beast, throbbing and breathing in my right side. I assumed that poor posture due to RA might be the culprit and so I enlisted the aid of my physiotherapist to help me find an exercise program to keep me moving during this stormy period. I particularly wanted to focus on my upper back and core – how surprised was I to learn at my second session that another condition was causing my discomfort – scoliosis.
I have grown accustomed to the quiet lingering pain of RA. I am used to its heat and no longer surprised by its wavering oscillation within my body. The pain of scoliosis was a whole new monster, almost eclipsing the pain of RA. I was not used to this pain – this searing, radiating pulse flowing from my mid upper back thru my hips into my legs. There are many conditions that can develop alongside RA and other autoimmune diseases. I had always been lucky that my only battle was with RA, but now I had new twist to add to my daily challenges. Did RA contribute to a poor posture? Did I always have it? I will never be sure.
I was shown a series of upper back and core exercises to help strengthen a weak left side and stretch out my right. My physio also discovered my left leg was 4mm shorter than my right – I flashed back to a childhood memory when I broke my left hip, remembering the heavy cast that enveloped my waist and my left leg in early adolescence. Could I have had a small growth spurt while my leg was imprisoned in my cast? Possibly. She suggested a 4 mm lift to be placed under the insoles of my shoe to help even out my balance while walking. The exercises to strengthen my left side were challenging. I was surprised how quickly my once toned muscles had weakened over the years with RA, but I was sure after a few weeks, my muscles would remember how they once worked to manipulate my body on the dance floor all those years ago.
I love my core exercises. I try to do at least ten repetitions a couple of times a day. They’re not strenuous, and they relieve the radiating pain of scoliosis. I knew immediately the exercises were helping, because after a few weeks, the pulsing pain in my right side subsided, and the familiar heat of RA came flooding back.
My second cousin has been dealing with this twisted condition for most of her life – she shares her experience with scoliosis on her blog, appropriately titled “Twisted Sister”. As she will undoubtedly describe, and with any condition that affects the physical body, it takes a lot of work and determination to manage. RA is the same – we must always find ways to keep moving. Motion is healing. Our bodies were not made to be stagnant. We are made of water, we are supposed to flow.
There are always twists in life – a twist of fate, a twist in plot – if life was always predictable we would lose our ingenuity, our imagination, our strength – the very things that make us the amazing individuals we are. RA has sent me on this twisted journey, and I have learned to navigate the curves. The good news is that I can always find the right direction to straighten it out.
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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.