I like to bury things. Deep inside my head. Behind my heart. I bury the thoughts and the words, trying to stuff them down underground, to forget. Instead, they betray me by growing up and out into weeds. All hope of blossoming is choked out.
I had some hopes for this year. I attended a year-long writing workshop with monthly meetings, focused on writing that first draft. Though it started last August, I had chosen the New Year for that fresh boost to sit down and finally fully bleed onto the page. I felt ready at last.
But as I sat down on the couch for a December session with my long-time therapist, she shared that she had some news to reveal for the next year. She was ready to retire by March. She would reach her 40th year working as a social worker/therapist. It was time. I understood. But I felt my hope, my focus crumble.
Write the words to set yourself free.
Below are a couple of freewrite exercises that I recently completed while attending a local writing meetup. In other words, it was not polished prose.
The first one I felt ready to share that night. The second one, not so much. But now I share it here, in this sacred space – my altar to words.
Who am I?
I’m stuck here on this boat. Drifting on an endless sea, I suppose. It’s been raining for just over a month now in this place, a so-called haven for heaven. I’m not alone, at least. But I am crowded and I can’t take it anymore! I want to feel the sun on my face, the dirt under my toes. I want to grasp a tree branch, flush with leaves, pluck off a tiny apple and bite the wisdom of its tart flesh. Yet I’m here, lost, though they claim we are found. I’ve found only a soggy spirit adrift on a flooded world.
The one mercy of all this rain is that I feel clean and pure as the water that drenches my soul. (Ran out of time here).
I have a thing about religion…
This next freewrite was the result of the prompt: “What are you waiting for?” Others took a more fictional angle on it with characters, whereas I felt the need for a confessional about the monolith of depression that blocks my writing:
I am waiting to die. Waiting for the dreams to smother me in the night. Lost hope, lost soul. Daydreams into null. Words unspoken fade away into thoughts scattered by fear. Thoughts only tumble into nothing. Nothing, I fear. But I do. I fear my words. I fear my thoughts written, done. I fear facing those memories as they threaten to shroud me. Buried in the ground. Or I could light them up. Let them burn away. Drifting as ashes, obvious delay. Can’t write if you aren’t here. Alive, breathing, heart beating. Thoughts bleeding. Afraid to poke and prod, even to see the words of my story form into shape. Down I go and out it falls, but nowhere to find it as it flows. The ink has dried too fast. My hands hurt too much. I think I know what my story is and then I let it fade into a question of not knowing at all. So I wait. I wonder. I try. I tumble. I let the plot die as I breathe in fear…and hope falters.
My saving grace at this point in my life is the re-discovery of writing: as a gift, a blessing, my salvation instead of as a childhood school chore. It unexpectedly revealed itself over the course of the past several years, starting in 2013. My imagination flared to life from the ashes of defeat. The daydreams demanded their story to be known; make us real, from your heart and mind, as nagging as an aching joint. It’s taken this long to find the courage to acknowledge this part of myself and finally believe in it. Writing is the only way I can ever birth something from within me. A creation brought into this world from the womb of my heart and mind, to grow and flourish into hope and wonder.
I’ve always been a daydreamer. I escaped into my mind as the bully pulled my hair and pinched me from between the small space of the bus window and seat. But I never wrote the dreams down. I just played it over and over inside my head, hoping that one day, this better world could be made real somehow. Writing was just a knack I had when it came to school papers; an expectation. I’d tried to keep a diary, but I just couldn’t commit to seeing my thoughts on the page. What if someone else found it? I got in enough trouble as a child, being a stubborn bronco of a mind. Oh, and surely my older brother would have tormented me in some way as part of his sibling duty. No, the creations had to stay hidden in my mind.
After developing rheumatoid arthritis, I felt that I lacked much worth. No idea about my future, other than it being full of disease, pain, and damage. That’s it, really. I was damaged goods. How could I expect to create words, art, and any expression when it hurt too much to live, let alone use my hands? So I coped by letting that part of myself go, and slide back into the past, an artist no more. Every now and then, it would call to me though. One incident that I’ve never forgotten was back when I was in a relationship with an artist. I had a simple idea to make something amusing, just to do, fleeting really, just for kicks. And he responded with “why bother?” Why bother, indeed.
It’s the absolute worst when someone that you look up to and believe in fails to give the same support. So much trauma from those days, if only I had written it all down, blood on bone. But I felt that it was too much to put into a form where it stares right back at me as etched memories. I know now that is why I couldn’t write during the 18 month span of heart health issues. It was enough to just get through each moment of the day. Nearly dying, six week hospital stay with first open heart, trying to sort myself out, going back to school, discover another issue with heart, cardiac tests and hospital stays, 2nd open heart, and then finally being done. Finally! But “what now?” My whole life had changed again; first time being RA, with this second time of a repaired and ticking heart. The post-traumatic stress reduced me to a super anxious frantic mouse that couldn’t make sense of the maze it had found itself stuck within. And then the betrayal happened with the artist and I just couldn’t take much more. I felt so shattered. I had survived health trials that proved to me that I am strong enough to carry on, despite doubt, fear, even the odds. But there I was, shaky with ultimate doubt, feeling worthless. What I thought was real was apparently a lie. Could the same be said of all I’d just overcome, especially with that jerk by my side through it all? (Two open hearts!) What was the point of surviving if my heart was too heavy to hold hope anymore?
Thankfully, I knew enough to recognize that depression lies and obtained the mental healthcare needed for it, as well as my panic, anxiety, and PTSD issues. Now I can look back and realize that I still didn’t feel strong enough to face my fear and release all of those feelings, those thoughts, those blessings and demon onto the page. Wounds in my heart to bleed out through fingers crippled by disease. Instead, I let the words fester. How fitting that an infection destroyed my Mitral valve; a doorway in my beating heart torn apart and consumed by a festering poison. A sturdy new door was then stitched into me, with doors clicking and ticking away the moments of my life until it all winds down. I wish I had believed in myself back then beyond mere daily survival and planted the rubble of my story as I walked its path; a cobblestoned redemption. Only now am I able to put my butt in the chair, gloved hands on the keyboard, and pull out the weeds in my mind before they creep down and strangle my heart.
My partner is my husband. My best friend. The man I love.
Healthy for his whole life, his awareness changed after he met me, the woman in gloves.
He has been by my side through these years as I rise and I fall.
Rheumatoid arthritis, heart condition, infertility; arms close around me as I bawl.
He holds my hands while I wear gloves or bare and chilled to the bone.
He tells silly jokes and gets me to laugh when all I feel like doing is groan.
If I’m too tired to rise, he’s there to help me up, morning or night.
Sweet and kind enough even to help with the little things, like cracking open my Sprite.
He knows how to calm and soothe me, a most stubborn and cranky beast.
When I feel defeated, he hits me with his best shtick until my grumpy demons release.
Laughing together, he will pull me into an embrace, holding me tight and close.
He’ll take my hand to waltz around our living room, as our doggie hops all over our toes.
His smart, kind, and funny heart captured my own from ticking forever all alone.
He is my life, my love, my treasure, my true home.
After 23 years, I have a few tricks and tips for coping with the issue of a chronic debilitating physical condition, even though I look healthy and normal. There are always little things that we have to think of that most able-bodied/healthy people may not consider at all when it comes to moving around. There are a few tools that can assist and provide some measure of comfort.
My favorite and best known tool is wearing gloves. I wear them no matter what the weather, even in summertime. Of course, I get stared at funny for that too, but what they don’t realize is that hot weather is the best for soothing aching hands within a pair of gloves. When I’m out and about, driving too, I wear Isotoner unlined women’s spandex shortie gloves:
They can also be purchased on Amazon. Prices fluctuate on Amazon for these, especially depending on time of year.
For work/home, I wear Imak Active Gloves:
Imak offers an Arthritis version, which is without the grippers found on the underside of the Active version. I prefer the Active version, as they seem to last longer and the grippers are a big help when grasping for an item.
To keep the chill away (thanks, Raynaud’s!) and provide warmth to my joints while at the desk, I use a heated wrap, which comes with handy pockets:
You can place it over a chair for heat through your back. Wear it length-wise, covering your legs. Wrap it around hips, knees, shoulders. It’s just big enough without being too cumbersome as a blanket can be at times. It’s perfect for the office. It comes with a standard plug. I haven’t had any issues so far with it not working on me as some mention in reviews. I do think it helps to keep pressure on it so that the heat remains on more consistently. It will eventually turn off as part of a safety feature. While on, it does seem to run through a heating cycle: flaring hot at first, fading away over time, then flaring back hotter. Kind of like Rheumatoid Arthritis, but way better.
For some extra support for hands and wrists, which are my main joints damaged by Rheumatoid Arthritis, I’ve found that these items are helpful, especially if you need to type away!
A keyboard wrist cushion is a must have for anyone with RA typing on a computer. I found a handy laptops sized one here, and it offers an elastic to hold it around the laptop edge:
A wrist cushion for the mouse is another must have! This one offers the option to buy one or two (one for home, one for work) and is super comfortable:
Another item that also helps more than anything is a wrist/hand brace. I’ve tried a few over the years, but my favorite is by Futuro with their Slim Silhouette Wrist Support, designed for women (less bulky design, basically). They offer it for the right or left wrists; you have to buy the specific side. They are available here at Amazon, but I’ve also found them at Target and Meijer:
Another trick I’ve learned over the years involve modification of movement in order to do common tasks, like opening doors. Heavy doors are one of my daily frustrations. I try to never push a door open with my hand flat out against it, wrist bent. If anything, I’ll turn the back of my hand against door, not bending wrist but holding it straight with my arm (like an extension of the arm) and use the lower arm with back of hand to push in. The main trick is to use my body weight to open it up, utilizing a bent elbow pointed out, my shoulder, a bent arm. If I need to hold a door open for someone behind me, I use a foot, arm, lean into door; anything to take the weight off of a particular joint area (such as hand, over stressing a wrist, etc.) and use the weight of my body instead through a larger limb/number of parts. Sometimes it can feel like a contest to come up with how to open a door without using actual hands (as most people do). If it’s a pull open door, I try to pull it open with enough force that I can catch the door with my arm bent, putting the lower half of it against the door itself, using the body weight through the arm and shoulder to hold it open. Granted, this only works if your arms/elbows/shoulders aren’t often flaring. But never use just the hand/wrist to carry the weight of the door.
Oh, another tip for doors, such as when leaving the restroom? Grab some paper towel to use for touching the door handle (unless you can push it open with a shoulder, etc.). I always do this at work. I’ve heard a few too many people just walk out of a stall and pull open that door, walking out. Eyes wide, horrified. “Did I just hear them leave? Yes, I did. Ew.” Our immune systems have enough to deal with, we don’t need any of that bullshit, right? Paper towels to the rescue!
Back during my “Still-a-Good-Catholic-Under-My-Parents’-Roof” years in my late teens, Rheumatoid Arthritis made it complicated to extend the “Peace Be With You” without my hand being crushed by others, let alone the Priest (this has happened). Not such a peaceful blessing when it triggers a hand flare. My Mom actually came up with an effective solution: clasp hands behind the back and bow forward, stating “peace be with you” while smiling (crucial!). If they look confused, it’s up to you if you want to tell them why you’re neglecting to offer your hand during the sign of peace. You have RA. It’s not worth suffering a new flare. Also think of the germs you’re sparing your compromised immune system. Can you be certain that they always wash their hands after using the restroom? It’s not really a sin either (though it should be!)
Lastly, the biggest tip/trick I have is to remember to give yourself permission to take care of yourself. You’re allowed to say no. You’re allowed to say yes. You’re allowed to stay in. You’re allowed to go out. It doesn’t have to involve anyone else. It could just be a date with yourself. A chance to sit outside in the warmth of the sun, while sitting in the yard or in a park. Or watch from the window or out back as the sun sinks down and the moon rises up in the dark. You are allowed to be mad. You are allowed to be sad. You are allowed to tell someone else if it gets to be too hard. You are allowed to ask for help if you feel life’s gone too far. You are allowed to want to do everything on your own. And when you can’t, you are allowed to be frustrated and groan. You are allowed to try. You are allowed to cry. You are allowed to scream at the heavens demanding “Why?” You are allowed to feel joy, laugh, and smile. You are allowed to need your time and energy to be spent on what you consider to be worthwhile. Find something that always brings you joy. Something that RA can never destroy. Keep it within easy reach for those moments, days, (years…) when life is too overwhelming to cope. Use this as a tool to ignite the fire inside of you and give rise to hope.
Take care of you!