For the first few couple of years after I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I lived my life largely in denial. I knew I had a chronic illness and I knew I had to take medication for it but I didn't truly understand how to live with it. I thought I could just continue living my life as I had done and as I had planned, without consequence.
I pushed RA to the back of my life (even though it lived in the forefront of my mind) and gave it little respect. I tried to convince myself that nothing needed to change. But what happens if you deny something important? Generally, it jumps up and bites you hard! And that is exactly what happened. I flared so badly that my body literally screamed for me to take notice of it.
I was forced to sit up, take notice and realise that I could not push arthritis to the back of my mind or my life.
It had indeed changed me and would change my future.
As much as I resisted at first, I needed to give it the ongoing attention and respect it demanded (and continues to demand). This meant that I had to factor it into my decision-making and take the huge step of talking to others about what it was and how it affected my life.
To do this, meant that I had to reach a level of acceptance within myself. I needed to make peace with this diagnosis. I needed to stop seeing it as an obstacle and a life sentence, instead see it as a manageable situation and a lesson that had come into my life to teach me something.
After many tears, sleepless nights and months of therapy, I came to the conclusion that there had to be a reason for my RA beyond causing me insurmountable, excruciating, constant, debilitating pain and misery. I refused to believe that I had been given this massive health challenge simply to test my own strength and endurance. While I am not a religious person, I am a spiritual one, and I did believe the universe had a bigger plan for me, albeit a different plan to that I had ever imagined.
We are all presented with challenges in our lives. Whether it is health, financial, personal or professional. Our strength, growth and depth of character come from how we choose to respond to those challenges. You can choose to let a diagnosis or particular life challenge define who you are in a negative way, but you will stay engulfed in that powerless state.
Or... you can choose to take that life lesson and educate yourself about it; develop coping strategies to manage it; learn from your experiences of it; and create an emotionally rich life that will nourish you
and inspire others.
I know now, 14 years on, that when I chose not to be a victim to arthritis, instead to learn from it and use it to further develop my strength and tenacity, I was also choosing a path that would lead me to a place where I am secure enough with my own health, to be able to support others with their journey. I was meant to write my first book and share my experience to benefit others. I was meant to learn how to navigate the health system and learn how to live with challenging health, so I could pass on these skills to other people living with challenging conditions.
It is becoming clearer to me everyday, what I have gained from living with arthritis. I am not saying that I don't have days when I curse RA and wish I didn't live with pain, fatigue and disability, because I do. I have days when I find it extremely hard to see beyond my own pain. I have days when I feel immensely sorry for myself and just want others to look after me, rather than the other way around. I have days when I don’t want to be the strong one, when I want to fall in a heap and let someone else pick up the pieces and carry the load. I have days when I am angry that I cant do things I want to do. These days plunge me into the depths of despair and threaten to keep me there.
Thankfully however, the things I have achieved despite arthritis shine brightly and continually remind me that RA has not really restricted my life, it has just changed it from what I originally thought it would look like. I know I am very fortunate to have been able to create a family of my own. It was an incredibly challenging journey, one that I questioned my strength to endure, but I was determined and fortunate that my body allowed me this gift of new life – twice. I am grateful to have married a man who was strong enough to stand beside me through my diagnosis and brave enough to not run away during the tough times.
I know I am strong and I know I can cope with anything life throws at me; and I have rheumatoid arthritis to thank for that.
It has made me more compassionate, more empathetic, more determined and more appreciative of what is good in my life. When my strength falters, I know deep down that I will be ok; that when the momentary darkness lifts, I will endure and I will succeed again.