Winter in BC is usually not like winter in the rest of Canada. The coastal cities are spared the freezing temperatures and snowfall records. Our temperatures rarely dip below zero and rain keeps our forests and mountain trails lush and green. But like the tempestuous pull of the ocean and its changing tides, winter in BC this year took a startling turn. February became the month where we got a true taste of the great white north with record-breaking cold and snowfall from an arctic front that swept in and turned the tide on my arthritis.
The weather was not the only factor in the resurgence of my flares. It has been a challenging few months – working, performing and going to school has raised my stress levels and reduced my rest. It feels as though I have been in a flare for several weeks, waking with swollen sore joints that linger throughout the day, mostly ignored by me as I try to slog through the slush and finish my tasks. Our winters still carry their signature dampness, and that clammy moisture seeps into my bones and settles there like mold gathering in the tiny cracks of tiles in the bathroom – and even when I scrub it away, it keeps coming back.
It’s been difficult to take the necessary breaks to try to reduce the flare. I’m up early in the morning, I work all day, I’m off to the theater at night, home by 11:00 pm, and I’m awake for at least another hour or so, winding down from the momentum of performing, and so my sleep is taking a serious hit and so is my RA. There will be times when we are swept up and carried on a rogue wave where we can’t slow down, and our disease takes center stage. How do we manage the inevitable exhaustion and flares that are likely to come when life won’t give you a break?
It comes down to preparation. I knew this was coming. I knew that at least four weeks of my life would be demanding and hectic. It’s difficult to know how my body is going to respond so all I can do is prepare for the possibility of flares. I stuck to my medication schedule to control my disease, I kept some emergency NSAID’s close by, I did some home paraffin baths on my hands, and indulged in full body baths with Epsom salts to relieve aching muscles. I stored ice packs in the freezer ready to cool hot swollen hands and I carved out little moments of time just to lay back and read, relax or watch a good movie.
Another part of that preparation is looking at my weekly schedule and organizing my priorities – that lecture I wanted to attend, is it more important than my going home and resting for class the next day? Should I reschedule that coffee date with a friend so I can have some quality time to spend with her instead of checking my watch and wondering when I should leave in order to make it to the theater on time? It’s not always about choosing what is more important but choosing when I can give my time and energy and determining if it will benefit me in the end.
February is over, and March has arrived with sunshine, warmer temperatures and birdsong. With the last days of my show behind me, I can stop and smell the flowers, breathe in the briny marine air and recharge before going on with rest of my year. The tide will turn again, because it is never still – sometimes it will sweep in the stinging salt of RA, other times it will drag it out with the undercurrent and dash it against the rocks – and when it does, I’ll be ready to sail on, full steam ahead, to my next destination.
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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.