Last night, I had this dream that my hands were awfully deformed and when I started showing them to my husband, various family and friends, they all told me that my hands looked just fine. I was the only one seeing the deformity in my hands which leads me to wonder how much my own fears cripple me. I worry more about my hands than I do about my feet, ankles and knees. Furthermore, my feet, ankles and knees hurt me a lot more than my hands, but for some reason, I worry less about them than I do my hands.
I have recently stopped taking elevators and taking the stairs more. I have started a walking routine and I am taking it slow. For the first time, my symptoms appear to be improving instead of getting worse and I am taking advantage of the opportunity to get more active again. For a long time, I felt depressed that I wasn’t as active as I used to be, but I made a choice to be patient about my inability to be active because I knew the time would eventually come. I miss being able to go to the gym and the long strolls my ten year and I used to take. I miss all the time we used to spend playing outdoors and exploring nature. I look at the lemons I have been handed and for a long time, it took a lot of me to make lemonade but these days, it is all I do.
I know that my fears cripple me more than my conditions do. I enjoy being independent and not relying on others. I am the type of person who people lean on and I am not used to leaning on others. I have always been active when it came to having a voice. In high school and college, I was very active in student government, and was even student government president in college. After college, I did volunteer work every opportunity I had. I was always active at my son’s school even while working full-time and attending school part-time. Of course, I have fears, but I am slowly learning not to let them consume me.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language defines (and gives examples of) fear as (1) a. A feeling of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger. b. A state or condition marked by this feeling: living in fear. (2) A feeling of disquiet or apprehension: a fear of looking foolish. (3) Extreme reverence or awe, as toward a supreme power. (4) A reason for dread or apprehension: Being alone is my greatest fear.
Charles Darwin, in book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals described fear as:
Fear is often preceded by astonishment, and is so far akin to it, that both lead to the senses of sight and hearing being instantly aroused. In both cases the eyes and mouth are widely opened, and the eyebrows raised. The frightened man at first stands like a statue motionless and breathless, or crouches down as if instinctively to escape observation. The heart beats quickly and violently, so that it palpitates or knocks against the ribs… That the skin is much affected under the sense of great fear, we see in the marvelous manner in which perspiration immediately exudes from it… The hairs also on the skin stand erect; and the superficial muscles shiver. In connection with the disturbed action of the heart, the breathing is hurried. The salivary glands act imperfectly; the mouth becomes dry, and is often opened and shut (p. 290).
One thing I have learned is that our worst fears don’t usually come true. (Save that for the horror movies I refuse to watch.) In the beginning I felt that my conditions were crippling me and forcing me to become unable, but day by day, as I picked up the pieces, I realized I was the one crippling myself and forcing myself to feel unable. Of couse, I still have fears but I refuse to let them cripple me.
My dream just reminds me that I fear something that most likely will not happen. In the last five years, RA medications are evolved and are showing a lot more promise than they did ten or more years ago. FMS is now recognized as a chronic illness of the central nervous system and with that advancements will come. I have taken my own health in my own hands by trusting my doctors, educating myself, and looking towards my own faith when I start to feel weak. I have taken notice of the ups and downs faced by others dealing with the same conditions, and I know that there is always hope.
When I was first diagnosed, my mother told me about my grandfather’s diagnosis in the late 1960s and how the disease crippled him because the medical options weren’t there. Sometimes, I hear others talk about the struggles that their older relatives went through because of living with RA and FMS, and my heart goes out, and I am also reminded how fortunate we are to live in an age of medical advancement. It makes me sad that the options were not there all those years ago when my grandfather suffered with the physical pain of RA and the eventual the destruction of his joints. My mother told me that he went through periods where he could not lift his arms and take care of himself and periods where he could not walk. It would come and go but eventually, the disease weakened his immune system. He died in his sleep in the 1980s as a result of a heart attack when he was in his mid-60s.
I never met my grandfather as I was only about five years old when he died. I am reminded how fortunate I am to live in this age of medical advancement and it helps me to push my fears aside. I believe it was Louisa May Alcott that said: “I am not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” As for me, the storms have finally passed and I am seeing an improvement in my condition. It is time for me to put my fears aside and learn how to, again, sail my ship.