About two years ago, I started noticing pain and swelling in my wrists. At first, it was an annoyance and I took a break from using my phone, thinking that I was just overusing my hands leading to carpal tunnel — a very real concern in today’s world.
But then life as I knew it came to a complete and unexpected halt. The pain and swelling kept getting worse and my primary care doctor could give me no answer. I became depressed and could barely manage to focus at work, because I just couldn’t move around as easily and I had to dread the most ordinary tasks. Things like erasing the whiteboard in my classroom or chopping up vegetables for dinner or even just buttoning up my shirt became unbearably painful.
I won’t lie, the first six months of dealing with this unknown pain and swelling were extremely difficult. I was a fully healthy young man, in the middle of planning my wedding, enjoying my career and embracing the excitement of life with my future husband.
The worst part wasn’t the pain, however. It was the mental battle I had to fight each and every day. To try and convince myself that I was okay and that the future I had planned for myself was still in tact. I had to try and quiet my mind from focusing solely on this medical mystery.
It took almost a year and several doctor visits before I had an answer and got the medicine I needed to start my life on a path back to normalcy. The diagnosis? Autoimmune arthritis — of which there are several kinds but none of my medical tests have confirmed any particular one.
So, there has been some trial and error to my treatment and a lot of frustration to go along with it. I’ve been on a roller coaster ride of emotions over the past year trying to manage the pain and stress of having arthritis at such an early age. There have been days when I thought I was getting better and the problems would simply go away and then there have been days when I could barely function.
Although my struggles over the past two years seemed insurmountable at the time, I am happy to say that today I feel even better than before.
And the new path I find myself on has led me to discover some important life lessons:
There will always be difficulties in life. Live accordingly.
Life can change in an instant and we never know if or when it will. Getting arthritis has reminded me that I can’t put off my goals or dreams for another day, because who knows what tomorrow will bring?
I knew that I wanted to try a new job or go back to school, so instead of waiting any longer I found a new opportunity and took it. I also always wanted a tattoo, so I went and got one. These things scared the heck out of me, but also provided the most growth I’ve had in years.
We spend so much of our lives in the comfort zone until tragedy forces us to confront the time we’ve lost. Don’t wait for some day to live out your dreams, because that day may never come.
The best time wasn’t in the past and it isn’t in the future. It’s right here, right now.
Over the past year I’ve had to learn to stop re-living the mistakes of the past and focusing on the problems that arthritis might cause me in the future. Sure, arthritis did get in the way of life at first. But it didn’t take away my life completely. So instead of letting it control my thoughts and emotions, I had to re-gain control of my life.
We don’t get to choose all of our life circumstances, but we can put all our energy into savoring each and every miraculous day we get.
Slow down. Every day.
In order to savor each and every day, we need to learn to slow down and be present. This means taking the time to breathe and to make ourselves fully aware of what’s going on around us. It’s not easy to do, believe me. I have spent the past year reading a lot about mindfulness and how to focus on the present more.
The easiest step is to practice meditative techniques throughout the day. This means focusing on the breath and quieting the mind whenever we normally find ourselves in a hurried state. I do this when I’m in the car stuck at a red light, waiting in line at a store, or while on my daily walk.
Instead of letting my mind wander through the day’s to-do list or the next problem I have to solve or on dealing with my arthritis, I now focus more on the world around me.
And it’s amazing how mindful moments like these make us happier and more at peace with our lives.
Express gratitude. Whenever possible.
Life can throw a lot of things at us. I took so much of my life for granted until I got arthritis. My diagnosis has shown me how much I took my body for granted. I also learned that I was coasting through my day, not truly recognizing the amazing people I got to share my life with.
Now, I try to appreciate even the simplest of tasks, because who knows when I won’t be able to perform them any more. I also take the time to really engage with the people around me and thank them for everything they do for me. Nothing lasts forever, so we should try to live our lives full of gratitude each and every day.
After all of the tough times, I’m starting to figure out my life now and I view my condition very differently. Despite the pain and depression, I would argue that this experience has actually helped me immensely. It gave me a fresh perspective on life.
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