Sunday, May 15, 2011

The R.A. Roller Coaster

Ah, the roller coaster of life, full of twists and turns, ups and downs...If that is just life, what is life with Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Imagine the biggest most frightening roller coaster you have ever seen, only with the shortest line!  Hmmmm, why is that? ;)  This roller coaster is not the kind of roller coaster that anyone would volunteer to get on.  I didn't choose this coaster, this coaster chose me.  The R.A. roller coaster has ups and downs, that's for sure.  But, my roller coaster has seen fewer ups that it has downs.  Though exhilarating to some, the downs on the R.A. coaster can be steeper and more unexpected than most.  Just when things seem to be at an even keel, you can plummet to what appears to be an endless depth.

Like a regular roller coaster, the R.A. monster coaster has its share of twists and turns.  What's the difference?  Perhaps it's the frequency and severity of those twists and nauseating turns that make life with R.A. difficult to handle at times.  The twists and turns of the pain and exhaustion, popping out of nowhere, gripping you at the most inopportune time, make it feel like a never ending battle. 

What about the dark tunnels?  For a person with R.A., the dark tunnels can be feared the most.  I don't know many people with Rheumatoid Arthritis who will deny having bouts of depression to fight through, along with the pain and fatigue.  Even when focusing on the "ups", one can find themselves so physically and mentally exhausted, that emotionally it becomes very difficult to cope with.  Going through those dark tunnels can seem like the scariest part because this is the moment when my roller coaster appears to go in slow motion.  I can look in every direction and all I can do is embrace the darkness and move forward.  There is no going back and there is no looking back. 

Moving forward-the motion of life, the momentum of a roller coaster.  Moving forward-no matter how scary the roller coaster, no matter how terrifying the ups and downs, no matter how dark the tunnels get-is the key to moving through it.  It's not the key to getting off the roller coaster!  Only the Lord knows when the car of our roller coaster will come to a complete stop!  All we can do is go with the flow, enjoy the ride (no matter the ride), and keep moving forward through it!  (Oh, and please keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times!)

Whether you are in an Up or a Down, look to SUN!  When you enter that dark tunnel, look to the SON! 

Many Blessings!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Day Rheumatoid Arthritis Went on a Field Trip...

This past Thursday, we took our 105 5th grade students on an outdoor educational field trip.  They've been looking forward to this for months, while I have been secretly dreading it for months.  The students were split up into 4 groups to rotate through 4 stations:  Archery, GPS, Team Challenge Course, and a Giant Swing (which is literally a giant swing for 3 kids and loads of fun).  Each station was located at different areas of the beautiful Lake Geneva Youth Camp, which required a lot of walking and standing on my part.  The GPS station sent us on a scavenger hunt, which had us hiking all over the the place. 

Now, as a precautionary measure, my husband, also a teacher in our school district, took a personal day to chaperone.  He came to act as/for me in the event that I wouldn't be able to keep up due to my RA.  Let me tell you...I couldn't keep up!  By the end of the day, the pain had gone from throbbing to stabbing, and I had gone from tired to physically and mentally exhausted. 

Upon arriving home, I couldn't even keep my eyes open during story time with my son and fell into a deep sleep-right through dinner.  Almost 2 hours later, the pain in my legs woke me up.  My family was about the house getting on with their evening as I limped around heating up dinner and eating alone in tears from the pain I was in.  I took a Meloxicam (my prescribed NSAID and second dose for the day, despite the once a day prescription) and Tylenol Arthritis. 

Tylenol Arthritis is to my pain what a Band-Aid is to a severed limb...pointless.   But, out of desperation, I took it anyway.  I stayed up for about 2 more hours with my family and went right back to sleep on the couch once again, until my husband woke me up to send me to bed.  This is what quality time with my family has become.  Like a stranger watching from the outside looking in, I am watching my family pass me by. 

Begrudgingly, I got up for work on Friday, taking another Meloxicam (ignoring any thoughts about my liver), taking more Tylenol Arthritis, and a stimulant to fight off the exhaustion so I can mentally function at work.  What some people might not realize, nor appreciate (in particular, my doctor), is that teachers do need to have a high degree of mental alertness when at work, to do the job we do:  to teach;  to deal with not just one behavior issue, but multiple and sometimes at the same time;  to multi-task;  to deal with the stress of the job, the paper work, the noise, the interruptions;  to be on our feet all day;  to deal with 29 different kids at once all day long.  There is no room for mental fog.  There is no room for exhaustion-not this type of exhaustion, or else chaos can erupt.  So, I have started taking a stimulant prescribed by my neurologist, just so I can maintain mental clarity and function at work.  Some days it is kind of helpful.  On Friday, it was like taking a sugar pill.

By the end of the day, I spent all of the energy I had and completely shut down to the point where I couldn't even talk to my family with more than 1 or two word responses.  We drove to our seasonal campground site with mommy silent and eventually fast asleep.  Even upon arrival, I pulled together as much energy as I could to put the food in the cabinet and refrigerator, and then I crashed.  For the first time, I literally crashed physically, mentally and emotionally as I watched the kids running in and out of the camper, playing and laughing.  I watched the dog chasing them all around.  I watched my husband being a busy bee, setting things up, getting firewood, raking leaves.  And there I sat, spent, silently in pain with nothing left to enjoy, to give them, to participate with. 

For the first time, I thought a very depressing thought, "so, this is what life looks like without me in it."  I mustered enough energy to drag myself to bed, fully clothed, no bedtime meds, and wondered, how can RA be doing this to me?  How am I going to continue doing this-to myself, to my family?

So many questions all of the time, and yet, so many will go unanswered.  I did the only thing I knew what to do to cope.  I went to bed and prayed that the Lord will help me fall asleep quickly and soundly.  12+ hours later, it's a new day filled with new hope, new uncertainties, and new questions.  Thankfully, it's also a day I am NOT working, because having to take my meds I missed last night, has now put me into a medication fog and I would not be functioning well at work today at all.  Thankfully, today is Saturday and I can spend more time with MY children and give THEM what energy I have.  Thankfully, there are no more field trips this year!!  (Oh, but a full day of Field Day is scheduled for the 20th--ugh)  Thankfully, summer vacation is coming soon, but not soon enough. 

What I wonder is, how can RA and my job work together?  How will RA learn to live in harmony with the expectations of my profession, since the expectations of my profession aren't changing, only becoming more challenging?  So many questions, that may go unanswered...

May you find all the answers to the questions that RA has brought into your life...Many blessings!