The irony in my life is that old lady RA materialised when I was working in a Rheumatology clinic. I worked in an environment where arthritis thrived; I saw how arthritis marked its victims; I watched it invade people’s lives. In theory I knew all the facts about RA, but when I was diagnosed, I joined the same alien domain of all her past victims.
What did I expect? I was prepared for the influx of pain and inflammation in my joints; I expected objects might tumble from my weak and swollen hands on bad days; it didn’t surprise me when pens wobbled in my weak grip, and my carefully constructed handwriting converted to an inaudible scrawl across the page. I expected, due to what I observed, that the creeping exhaustion accompanying the assault on my body was absolute; I anticipated that I might run into trouble handling small objects; I expected that my life would change in adapting to living with arthritis. I saw all these things in others struggling with this disease and I thought I understood what to expect.
Here’s what I didn’t expect: I didn’t expect that somewhere in the shroud of my illness, I would be able to reclaim pieces of my life before arthritis. I didn’t expect that I would learn how build a new life that suited me. I didn’t foresee the power I had to fight through the bewilderment of a chronic illness; I didn’t know I would discover a new determination to work hard enough to return to an active life, get back on the stage, and travel. In an astonishing twist of fate, my life with arthritis revealed an opportunity to revive the lingering dream of being a writer and make it a reality. I chose to make the most out of my time, living each day to the fullest. Arthritis granted me the surprising resolve to take advantage of every aspect in life.
Expectations are never what they seem; sometimes in the midst of disease, there are secret blessings waiting to be discovered, and those unexpected revelations will uncover the strength to lead you to places you might not have imagined.
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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.