Well, being almost Thanksgiving, I decided to do the cliché thing, and write about things I’m thankful for. At first. Then, I realized that, instead, I could d something drastically different from what other blogs written abut chronic illness do. Right here, folks, for one of the first times ever, I’m going to tell you about some of the good things that having rheumatoid arthritis has done for me. Gasp!
I know you’ve probably heard about every hardship, issue, tragedy, and problem that autoimmune disease can cause, in a multitude of entertaining ways. From my own experience, though, very rarely does anyone extoll the less-common, virtues of living with a long-term chronic illness. Sure, there aren’t many, but they do exist, and I think it’s important to you, the reader, to see that it’s not all doom and gloom. If, God forbid, you are ever diagnosed with an illness yourself, or even if you just think we are a bunch of whiners, hopefully this will change your mind.
I think there is a very strong argument to be made that my disease has made me a better person in a number of ways. Sure, we’ve all heard the age old saying “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” but the true fact of the matter is that it is a cumulative effect, I believe. It isn’t one hardship and suddenly, BAM!, you’re a saint. It’s only after years of dealing with adversity that you truly begin to let the small stuff go, and find ways to overcome the crushing despair and disappointment that comes with the big stuff. I always say, when you have to worry about things like “can I walk?” then not getting the reservation you wanted on Saturday night doesn’t seem like something worth raging about. Also, without a doubt, my disease has forced me to develop a fairly decent sense of humor. Having to deal with ignorance in all its forms, you develop a hard shell, or you hide at home all day long. People are going to be jerks, especially when you are disabled, and since I can’t physically defend myself, I often have to be able to verbally eviscerate anyone who deserves it. (Which turns out to be not as many people as you’d think, actually.) Finally, there’s compassion. My wife tells me I’m too soft, and the truth is, I probably am. I find it difficult to kill any living thing, and avoid it if at all possible. When it comes to people, I always try to think about why someone did whatever it is that hurt me or someone else, and give them the benefit of the doubt. Oh, and, the best part is, I bawl at TV shows and movies. It’s gotten to the point where my wife makes sure there are always tissues ready to go. What can I say, having a chronic illness has made it easier for me to feel the pain of others. It’s a fact, and I couldn’t even stop the tears if I wanted to. Believe me, I’ve tried – at this point its automatic.
So, now you’ve heard about some of the good things my illness has given to me emotionally and physically, but what about in a broader sense? Well, there’s plenty to be had there as well. After years of existing and writing in the online disability community, I can say that I’ve met many amazing people who are still my friends to this day. Other disabled bloggers are just as compassionate, funny, and clever as I am, and I consider it an honor to know them. This is definitely something that would never have happened if it wasn’t for rheumatoid arthritis. Also, my entire writing career wouldn’t have happened, that’s for sure. I only began this adventure because I was so miserable that I had no other outlet for my feelings, and then, voila! I had written a book. Now I have a podcast, a book, I blog on this wonderful and popular website, and I am even working on some projects that you won’t believe (coming soon)! None of that would have happened without chronic illness. I hated my English and writing classes in school – I never would have done it on my own.
Finally, one of the last things I want to mention, is something that may seem like common sense, but it really isn’t. Because of my disease, I have gotten to know the ins and outs of my body more intimately than anyone healthy knows theirs. I know the exact limits of my pain threshold, I know the exact time I have pushed it too far (and I always keep on pushing), and, counter-intuitively, I have more endurance than the everyday Joe. I know, this sounds like it should be the opposite, but the fact of the matter is, much of endurance has to do with mental fortitude, and I have it in spades. I guess that’s the overall message here – strength. My illness has given me almost superhuman strength – not in the physical sense, but mental tenacity and toughness on a level that most people will never experience. It takes a heck of a lot of get-up-and-go to push yourself to get out of bed on those bad days, and once you find the strength to do so, it carries over to every other area of your life.
It’s interesting, the first time I really began to think about the good things my arthritis has given me was after someone asked me “If you could go back and not have arthritis, would I do it?” I was shocked to discover that I actually had to contemplate my answer, and even more shocking was the fact that in the end I determined that I probably would have done it the same. I love who I am and who I’ve become, and it is due in large part to my disease. Is rheumatoid arthritis who I am? No, but it is definitely responsible for who I’ve become. So, Happy Thanksgiving, and be thankful for the things your life has given you.