A chronic illness is a great teacher, but the student has to be willing to learn – to stay curious, and be open to both failure and (on the way to) success. Sometimes the lessons are plainly illustrated; other times, they require extra effort, time and patience to reveal.
Rheumatoid arthritis has provided me with a multitude of experiential learning opportunities in a number of subject areas. Just like in school, some subjects have been easier to master than others.
Join me on a brief walk through my rheumatoid arthritis curriculum.
When did you first notice your symptoms? How old were you? Does anyone in your family have rheumatoid arthritis? What medications have you been on? When and for how long? Have you had surgery? These are just some of the many questions I have been asked over the course of the thirty-five years of living with this disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis. Immune system. Blood work. Disease process. Physiotherapy. Occupational Therapy. Yes, I've had a first-person interest in these areas.
I joke that I am in a perpetual anatomy course, often learning the names of bones, muscles, ligaments and nerves, usually when pain and inflammation have forced me into taking a detour from the normal way I move. Words like acetabulum, psoas, subscapularis and synovium have become a part of the lexicon about which I become curious when some body part doesn't function naturally.
Phonetics and Spelling
My tongue became adept at acrobatics – tumbling out words like atlantoaxial instability, arthroscopy and synovial fluid. Visits to various clinics and clinicians often require a drug history, so the proper spelling of those multi-syllabic drug names is crucial, especially when misplaced letters can result in more questions and not the right answers.
There have been times when I felt like I was on some massive car rally, minus the rally. Included in my mental mind map of the landmarks of this area are the various labs, hospitals, specialists' offices and support people I have seen.
A chronic illness is expensive, even with insurance. A change in careers can mean a reduction in income. Your sick days may go into over-time. Some drugs may require out-of-pocket expenses. Often, the splints, supports and other medical gear that fills your shelves and adorns your body, are not completely covered.
Suffice to say that the road to financial recovery is uphill. My experience has taught me the value of budgeting.
Nutritious, simple and home-made meals are as much a part of my day as morning, noon and night are a part of the day. Experimenting and noticing how I feel when I eat certain foods have become second-nature to me which allows me to fuel up for better “mileage”.
Although I am not a natural athlete, I have enjoyed aerobics, cycling, dancing, hiking, skating, skiing, swimming and windsurfing. I think one of my saving graces is that I swim three times a week, plus walk daily. I usually begin and end my day with “Mindful Movement” – a series of flowing stretch and strengthening exercises. It's a wonderful way to bookend the day.
I have a theme song which happens to be Gloria Gaynor's “I Will Survive”. When times are tough, and I feel like I'm falling fast, I'll put this song on and sing it out loud. Once might do the trick to lift me up and out. Other times, I'll need several encores.
During what I now call “The Year of the Surgeries”, I realized that classroom teaching would be too onerous for me. I knew that I wanted to do something that would make use of my teaching skills, augment my “helper” gene, work from home and allow me to capitalize on my energy stores. As a result, my business Auntie Stress was born.
Problem-Solving and Creativity 101
Not an actual subject, but rather, two necessary skills to develop in all subject areas. I have learned to adaptand to find alternate ways of doing the things I need to do.
Rheumatoid arthritis can sometimes be like those attention-seeking children I've had in my classrooms. Recess was often a welcomed break to restore and redirect my focus. When I combine stress techniques with activities that revitalize me, I get that much-needed mental, emotional and physical break.
Rheumatoid arthritis is for life and since life-long learning is a part of my life, school will always be in session.