I feel vulnerable writing about my pain because it is invisible. When I share my pain, which is rare, people typically offer advice without realizing that I’ve spent many years working with it myself—as well as my doctors and practitioners. That said, I’m also open to hearing what others have to say about their pain.
The pain started with my left index finger during the winter holidays in 2004. I was on my way to a party, carrying a large box of gifts through a doorway, when I struck my finger on the door jamb. It hurt, but I didn’t think much of it. It didn’t seem serious, but it quickly became red and swollen. I repeated the accident at another party a week later. My injured finger continued to be problematic two weeks later, so I went to a doctor. My finger was examined and x-rayed, but the results didn’t show any damage. Nothing was broken. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be my first experience of Rheumatoid Arthritis, also known as RA. I was 40 years old when I was diagnosed, and I had previously been extremely healthy, hiking, biking, swimming, you name it. I was an ass-kicker until the day my ass was kicked by RA.
I used to characterize RA as an abusive husband who beat me relentlessly. I would wake up in the morning feeling like I’d been pummeled. Today I characterize RA as an unwelcome being that lives inside me, not really part of me, simply a passenger—one that refuses to leave.
During the 14 years that I’ve had this disease, I’ve discovered that the pain seems to be a process of ebb and flow, sometimes constant, sometimes dormant. Many types of chronic pain exist within me: Searing, stabbing, throbbing, tearing, ripping, twinging, aching, shooting and cramping. Worst were the years when the soles of my feet felt filled with shards of glass. Thank goodness I’m past that hurdle.
Pain brings a tremendous amount of weight, physically, psychologically and emotionally. I’ve noticed that the weight of pain isolates me from others; I tend to avoid people when my pain is too intense and I have no energy for socializing. When my energy is low and I’m interacting with a person with high energy, I become enervated and seek to confine myself in a safe place, which causes anxiety and stress—precisely the opposite of weightlessness.
Weightlessness can ease pain. For those of us with medical conditions, exercise is crucial, but it can be difficult, extremely painful, and sometimes dangerous. When I am exercising, I try to move with the pain, allow it to happen, and take care not to overdo. I know that when I’m finished exercising, I will feel exponentially better. Ten years ago, I went into full, non-clinical remission and exercised just about every day for four years. It was only until I moved to another city, and then another city, and then came back again, that I discovered how much I had let my health go. I hadn’t made time to exercise during those years.
The weightlessness machine wasn’t the only problem I was having with exercise. As a result of neglecting myself, weightlessness today is taking a long time to happen. It comes and goes. I had so weighted myself down, I wasn’t well. Even though I was not as weightless as I wanted to be, I tried to find ways of being weightlessness. Being pampered by hands massaging my aching body makes me feel worlds lighter, and the sound of rain—or being out in the rain—uplifts my spirits and instills a feeling of weightless, calm, clear headedness, wiser, even ethereal. Pure weightlessness.
For next time: What, Exactly, Is Weightlessness?