One of the hardest things for me to deal with is the hit that my self-image has taken since I began having R.A. symptoms. I warn you that I may come off as a bit shallow here, and I assure that I have many deeper concerns (about both my health and other non-solipsistic issues) that are simply not being addressed in this blog on this day.
Physically, I've always been pretty. Not the head-turning, fawned over by men kind of gorgeous, but pretty. I generally regard the fact that I am intelligent and a decent human being to be more important than the physical stuff, but I'm used to being pretty and having the advantages that good looks afford one socially. And then came the hypothyroidism, and then came the R.A., and then the steroids... and I don't look the way I used to. I've mentioned before that I've put on weight, and I simply don't feel like myself anymore. I in no way mean to imply that one cannot be pretty with extra weight- I've never been thin, even when I was a competitive athlete- but I don't look like me, and I'm less attractive than I used to be.
Here's where the vanity came in-- I told my rheumatologist the following (in reference to the prednisone): "I'd rather be in pain than put on any more weight." He countered with the logic that, once I get my RA under control, I'll be able to return to the activity level that I'm used to and it will be easier to lose weight. I simply said, "We have to do it without steroids." He let me win, with the caveat that I will take the prednisone as per instructions if I have a bad flare. Fine. Since I went off of it, I've lost about ten pounds and I'm starting to feel if not normal, at least in control. (For the record, I feel the same way about losing my hair but that hasn't been an issue with any of my meds).
My other concern is that I've always been sort of... adventure girl. In some ways this is literal- I used to go on long camping trips (3 weeks- 3 months) and do all manner of outdoorsy, biologist field guru stuff. In other ways, it's more abstract- I've always been up for doing random things and having an unplanned night of silliness. And I like being seen as this person- adventurous, outdoorsy, spontaneous- and I'm not that person anymore. I always knew that with age this would become less of who I am, but I expected a gradual, consensual decline- not to be jolted out of it with a diagnosis. I don't know who I am without those things I used to do (and love). I don't want to just be a teacher, or a girl who watches way to many movies cause she's balled up on the couch, a girl who's dealing with RA. I'm more than that- we're all more than that.
I want my old image back- healthy, pretty, vibrant, adventurous. I like being seen that way, not only by myself but by others. There are a lot of smaller vanity issues- not wearing heels as much, my hands looking puffy and swollen and weird, getting told frequently that I "look tired," (Seriously world- NO ONE likes hearing that they look tired. Never say this to anyone) and it all makes me feel... less positive about myself. Yeah, ok, so it's shallow-- I know I should be grateful for the things I do have, and the health I'm clawing my way back to, and I am. I'm still sad and annoyed about the things that I've lost. And for me, this is the best possible outcome. I don't thrive on being calm, patient, and zen. I thrive on being pissed off about a problem and getting mad enough to fight it.
I've learned that RA treatment is unfortunately personal- what works for one person is futile for the next. I'm hoping that attitude is the same- I need my stubborn, pissed off thing to work, because I may lose it if I have to meditate (again, no offense to anyone- do what works!).