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How Chronic Inflammation Taught Me to Find Gratitude in Small Victories

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Yesterday I crossed a road… without limping.

For those of us with joint inflammation, this is a good day. Before I was diagnosed with chronic illness, I celebrated big goals and felt gratitude towards significant milestones. I had lived a long life with good health until 2013, when the stiffness, pain and inflammation settled into the joints of my hands and feet. The diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis came in June of that year. And everything changed.

What could I be grateful for now?

My journey with chronic inflammation has been inconsistent over the last few years. The disease activity is high for several weeks and then less active, with no predictability. When I’m feeling good, I believe the goodness will last forever. And when my disease ramps up and it hurts to walk, dress myself and open jars, I believe this state of being will last forever. When it comes to my personal health, I’m always on one end of the spectrum – healthy or unhealthy, sick or well.

In May of this year, after a few months of low disease activity, I convinced myself that I had beaten this autoimmune disease. Had I reached the elusive remission, I wondered? Even my stoic rheumatologist agreed that my disease was at its lowest point. I remember sitting in his beige office proudly flexing my fingers, “See? Look at how much I can bend this hand? It’s good, huh?”

And then it happened. This is the part where I tell you that my symptoms came roaring back. Over the next few months, I lost the ability to take my dogs for a long walk, pull up the blankets in bed and put the dishes away without dropping one. When I limped slowly across the street in the mornings to go to my job, I could feel people watch me. These are the difficult moments only those with chronic inflammation can know.

It’s November now and, like many of you, I’m starting to reflect upon this past year in this season of thanksgiving.

Once again, I find that my inflammation has lowered a bit. But, this time, I’m wiser to the possibility of believing that I’ve healed. I’m accepting the reality that this disease waxes and wanes. And, I’m learning to be grateful for all moments, especially the small ones.

Before my diagnosis, feelings of gratitude were felt when big things happened in my life – landing a coveted job, finishing my degree and hiking a mountain peak in Maine. These days, I’m grateful for the small things, like walking across the street with ease.

Wishing you a holiday season filled with victories large and small.


Getty Image by MelanieMaya

Originally published: November 19, 2018
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