"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.....The courage to change the things I can.....And the wisdom to know the difference."
I was almost 19 years old, a college student, filled with ambition and dreams. I remember exiting the Science Building at the university after one of my classes, on one particular day. My legs, especially my right knee, felt uncharacteristically weak and painful as I descended the stairs. This was the first day of a life-altering condition.
The problem with my knee persisted over the next few weeks. I began my search for answers and medical care with my family Internist. He did the basic tests and diagnostics he could do, then fast-forwarded me to an Orthopedic Surgeon for a consultation. I had the doctors perplexed. I was seemingly too young to have arthritis, though my x-rays showed significant changes in my knee joints. My laboratory blood tests did not confirm rheumatoid arthritis. The thought at first was that I must have a sports injury. I was sent home and told to take 8 aspirins a day. With each pill I swallowed I also swallowed some hope that this would end soon.
The end never came. Instead of experiencing an end to the pain in my knee, I experienced a gradual shifting of the pain to my hip. From my left side it traveled to my right. It felt like something was taking a journey through my body. It made the journey, making stops along the way at each of my joints. It spent enough time at each stop to do some damage and then move on to the next stop. The extensive damage was enough to cement the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.
I battled back against the arthritis in typical fashion by listening to doctor's advice and consuming everything they prescribed for me. I made every effort to interrupt the journey of the arthritis through my body. At times it felt like I was winning, and more often it felt like the arthritis was winning. As years passed, I experienced gradual destruction of my joints. I experienced limitations imposed by the disease. I experienced loss.
The loss was slow, just like the progression of the disease. Aspects of my life that I had carved out for years were being taken away from me. There seemed to be a slow erosion of my life taking place directly proportional to the erosion of my joints. Changes and limitations mounted over time and the loss I was experiencing, though gradual, seemed overwhelming at times.
There are many ways to react to loss, especially the loss of oneself. The physical changes in me were making me into someone different than I had been. I determined that I needed the mental changes to correlate with the physical changes. I needed not to view the changes in me as a "loss" but rather as a "transformation". I really wasn't "disappearing", but I was "changing". It became clear to me over time that the changes in me physically were beyond my control. I made every effort to counteract the changes with excellent medical care, but the changes were still occurring.
It was obvious to me that I had some choices to make within myself. I could allow the physical decline to negatively impact my life, or I could alter my life in ways to better coincide with my physical condition. It gradually became as much a mental battle as it had been a physical battle. Arthritis had not destroyed my life, but it had changed it. The focus had to shift from what I had lost to what I still had.