“Without proper self-evaluation, failure is inevitable.” John Wooden
When I was first diagnosed with a chronic disease, I have to admit, I was quite naive. No, naive is definitely not a word that fits me (HA!) I guess what I really mean is unrealistic. I knew RA. I’d begun researching all of the likely suspects for my symptoms and had in fact put RA on the “please don’t let it be that” list. I’d watched it ravage before. I knew the gnarled body that was my destiny, or I thought I did. Looking back now, what I thought I knew was laughable. I knew very little about the beast named RA. And yet, in a way, we were already quite well acquainted.
That’s how it is with chronic disease. No one wakes one morning with a chronic disease. It’s not like a cold or flu. You don’t catch it today and exhibit symptoms within days. Chronic disease starts with gradual changes. Symptoms appear slowly, over time. They often ebb and flow in ways that seem senseless. By the time the patient and Doctor have seen the pattern and reached diagnosis, the disease has become an old, if somewhat irritating friend to the patient. You’ve learned to live with it, like the quirks of a loved one hardly noticed over time. For, just like living with a quirky loved one, you’ve learned to ignore the quirks. To live with them. To play through the pain, fatigue, and brain-fog. The familial nature of the disease is both your biggest ally and your largest foe.
The gradual nature of chronic disease means you can and do learn to live with many symptoms. Make no mistake, being able to live with the symptoms of a chronic disease is a massive blessing. A necessity for sane survival with said disease. I am grateful for my ability to cope every single day. But, hind sight being 20/20, I also see many times that finely tuned coping mechanism, that belief that feeling that is just normal for me, caused me to ignore things I should not have. Do not be fooled, slow and sneaky though it may be, chronic disease is doing damage.
Successful disease management requires learning the art of taking stock. Of honestly recognizing how you are doing, how that differs from how you have been, and where you need to be. Recognizing and responding to the things that cause it to act out. Being present and aware enough to know when something is helpful and when it is not. The lesson is listening to your body 101 and you are both pupil and subject.