Everyone experiences changes as they age–that’s just part of life. However, if you are battling arthritis or some other debilitating disease, your life will change in ways you probably can’t imagine. In order to cope, it’s best to learn as much about the disease and its impact as you can so you will know what to expect.
Keep reading, I have shared some of my story below and included some ways I cope. I hope you find this information helpful in your journey. Disease tends to isolate people and make you feel alone, you’re not alone–we’re in this thing together.
Strong as an Ox
Considering I am a fairly large man at 6’3”, I was always stronger than most people I knew before I ever started lifting weights. I used to pride myself on my strength, not that I bragged about it or anything. I just really enjoyed being strong, really strong. Lifting weights was relaxing to me and I liked to push myself to see how far I could go.
Being a big strong guy comes in handy sometimes. Me and three other guys once helped a friend move a large upright piano up a flight of stairs. Let me tell you: It’s not easy moving a 500+ pound piano up a flight of stairs, even with four people. We initially had two people on each end but the two on the other end from me struggled to lift the piano. Finally, I ended on the bottom and the other three guys were up top. It was pretty difficult for me, don’t get me wrong, but we made it up the stairs just fine.
I remember playing a prank on a friend one day. She was parked in a gravel lot and while she was inside a building, I picked up the back-end of her truck and slid it across the parking lot to a hiding location behind the building. I couldn’t understand why I was the only one laughing, everyone else’s jaw was gaping open in disbelief. It really didn’t cross my mind that no one else there could do this. Thinking back, it must have been a sight to see–a tall, skinny kid holding the back-end of a truck in the air walking across the parking lot!
I didn’t even remember this story until my wife described it to me because it wasn’t a big deal for me. Me, my wife, her brother, and my in-laws were moving large rocks so we could line them up around the pond they have on their land. Unbeknownst to me, it was taking all four of them to lift one of the rocks into the truck and they greatly struggled. I saw one of the larger rocks laying there with everyone standing around it so I walked over to it, picked it up, and put it in the back of the truck. What a strange look they had on their face, they were waiting for me because they thought maybe five of us could get it in the truck! I still don’t remember this clearly, but it’s become a standard story when my wife talks about “back in the day.”
Energy to Spare
I had energy to spare, after working all day I would go to the gym. Going to the gym meant playing several rounds of racquetball then lifting heavy weights. I would also swim some laps, if time permitted. Then I would head home and play with kids. Playing with the kids took many forms from running playing tag to wrestling and roughhousing (aka kids jumping on my stomach over and over again.) I once surprised the kids with a front handspring into a “kung fu” stance. After the kids were in bed, I would do my homework (it takes forever to get an advanced degree when you are working full time). While I was not in school I would teach programming classes at the community college three nights a week which meant preparing lectures, lecturing, and grading papers in my spare time!
Just another average day.
Fast Forward to Today
Morning meets me and I slowly open my eyes thinking to myself. Okay, I have to roll to my side and push up with my hand. I’m glad I sleep on the left side of the bed because I can’t really push with my right arm since I haven’t had my shoulder replacement yet.
I can do this, I can do this, I can do this. I keep saying to myself hoping it won’t feel like walking on legos this time. I sit there for a minute or two until I muster up the courage. I step down with a moan–not too bad today. I sigh in relief. Halfway to my dresser, I let out a yelp–my right knee just woke up and it’s not happy. I clench my teeth and think to myself: Arthritis will not win, it’s time to get ready and drive to work. Now where did I put my sock puller and my grabber tool? I can’t put my clothes on without these. Off to work, thank God I have an office job, I think to myself.
Limping into the door after work I “walk on legos” hurting so bad I can’t even speak. I’ve spent the entire day smiling and pretending like I don’t have a care in the world. Now I am in my safe place, I am home and I can drop the facade. My loving wife greets me with a hug and a kiss. Ugh, don’t squeeze too hard, I’m having a bad flare up. I sit down on the couch, my right hand is swollen so large it looks like I’m wearing a mitten. I scream because I accidentally touched my left thumb on the armrest.
My mouth is so dry, I cannot swallow; my eyes are burning. I immediately take my Sjögrens medication–not smart to take it before I make my 30 mile drive home due to the side effects of needing a bathroom close by. My back is aching deeply with pain shooting through my legs. I holler because indescribable nerve pain lit up my right foot like you wouldn’t believe–nothing I have can even touch this pain. Ahhhh… There it is again! My hips have a deep, deep ache and my right shoulder is experiencing sharp, constant pain. My neck is hurting so bad, I have a pounding headache from it. I pray to God my medication works and it works quickly.
“Honey, I cooked supper,” my wife’s voice awakens me. I smile, this time it’s real.
Just another average day.
Changes Comes Slowly
Fortunately, I didn’t go from a strong man full of energy to the frail person I described above overnight–this was a 20 year journey.
If you have arthritis, like me or another debilitating disease, your life with change. But your life can still be great and fulfilling because “you” haven’t changed, just your body. Learn to adjust your approach to things as your body requires.
Don’t get me wrong, I have fought this disease with every bit of strength I have on every front using all of the weapons I can find. However, if you can recognize when it is time to adjust, you will be better off.
I’ve learned some things over the last 20 years that I will share, to hopefully make your journey easier.
- Focus on the good things in life, we all have blessings we can count.
- Be kind. It is easy to snap at people when you are in pain, but make a conscious effort to be kind–you’ll be glad you did.
- Find a trusted source where you can share your pain. Maybe it’s your spouse, maybe it’s this blog, maybe it’s a close friend, maybe it’s keeping a journal: However you let it out, let it out.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Believe me, you will need it.
- Take your prescribed medications even when you feel good. Feeling good is deceptive, it doesn’t mean you’re disease free.
- Be strong. I’m talking about a different kind of strong than the one I described above. Your mind needs constant adjustment to focus on the positive.
- Do something you really enjoy. If you have lost the things you enjoyed, find something, anything. Be creative and do it–do it just for you and no one else. Enjoy.
- Meditate. Be quiet, be still, listen.
God Bless… Danny