A Dash of Flare
At my last trip to the Emergency Room, the doctors just attributed the merciless pain I’d been feeling for a week in my neck and down my arm as just a manifestation of stress and anxiety. They ruled out a heart attack, but no x-rays. Just a dose of Dilaudid and an escort to the waiting area for my ride to pick me up. I felt like my mental health must have become so weakened that I was making it up or exaggerating my symptoms. I was scared of the pain, but more terrified it was all a product of my mind. That I was making myself sick somehow.
When my diagnosis put a name to what I’d been feeling, it didn’t make the idea of osteoarthritis and other degenerative issues much easier to bare. Please understand, I know it’s not the end of the world now, but in that moment, I felt like I saw so many possibilities melt away. Long flights, vacations/destinations too far from a pharmacy and making plans in advance seemed to slip away. It was something that would never go away and would eventually get worse, not better? Just a flare?! Not really the type of flare I go in for – I’m more of a rhinestones kind of gal.
Then loneliness came. Loneliness is the best word to describe this new life immediately following diagnosis and further testing. My friends didn’t know how to respond or bright sided in an attempt to ease the situation. Because of my new medication regiment, my evening social calendar disappeared. I felt bad talking about how I was doing because I’d watch their faces become sympathetic and then uncomfortable that the life of the party was now the world’s biggest downer. I leaned on my best friend who lives across the country and lives with RA. I was so grateful to have someone to connect with about it, though I wished chronic pain wasn’t the new connection we now shared.
So, I isolated. I was told not to lay on the couch, but in bed. So I did. I took warm showers and laid on my heating pad and tried to entertain my mind. I live alone which can be very relaxing but, when you are scared and hurting, it becomes a type of Hell. I live alone and was coping alone. I grieved. I grieved the life I had and grieved the life I wouldn’t have. Some may call it dramatic, but life does change with chronic illness, and I have accepted the idea that I did have to grieve. I embraced podcasts. I learned that people like me were everywhere, and I wasn’t as alone as I initially felt. I still struggle getting out again. I’m strictly a brunch and before 6pm kind of gal now. It sucks sometimes! Especially since most concerts and dancing happen after 8pm. It makes me so badly miss who I was. She was fun and carefree. Now I sometimes feel so boring and … dried up. I try not to let that feeling linger and instead embrace that I will have to be more creative.
I am trying to make the most of the good days now. I’m dealing with my second flare and it’s going better than the last with all the knowledge I ‘ve gained in this short time. Sometimes hitting the flea market or a brewery with friends in the sun is the best I can do that day and that’s ok. Today is today – I can’t look at yesterday’s flare, or today’s, and fret about the next. I have to go out and gently do what I can while I can.
Heather Hostuttler works in human services in Dallas, TX. She was recently diagnosed with osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease in her cervical spine. Heather enjoys photography, craft nights and long walks on the beach shelling – yes, really! She lives with her chubby, black cat, Boots.