The end of this month marks my 17th anniversary of being free of the the pain and medications associated with Rheumatoid Arthritis. At this point 17 years ago, I was still on a daily regimen of anti-inflammatories (Lodine, Naproxen, Prednisone, and Methotrexate…while often still resorting to Advil to help with the pain), but something had changed. I was “treating my symptoms” while actively working on healing from within. You see, up until July of 2000, I had been struggling as a victim to a disease that I had coped with since I was 3 years old. Years of medications, a couple of short-lived remissions, and a resignation to this being the pattern of my life had taken my health out of my hands. That July, I reluctantly (and doubtfully) went to see an energy worker for the first time. I felt a change. I felt an ease and a calm that I hadn’t felt…ever. It was after that visit, that I thought, I need to do something different. I am ready to do something different. I couldn’t afford to keep going to this person while still paying out of pocket for all my doctor visits, so I thought, I need to learn how to do this for myself. By September, I had read some books (the first of which was Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life), I had taken some classes to learn how to give myself energy, I began to meditate (or attempt to), and I had found a group of others that were learning to do the same. This was the start of my journey and I slowly was feeling an improvement in my health, but I had some solid challenges to face that had nothing to do with the pain or swelling. What I found was that I had two primary challenges that I had to consistently work on overcoming. Others looking in told me that it should be smooth sailing once I got over the physical symptoms that I had been dealing with. What they didn’t understand was that the emotional aspect was actually the most difficult piece to shift and release. Nobody wants to be in pain. Getting the body to physically cooperate was actually easier than getting my mind on board.
First, as much as this seems contrary to what I would want for myself, JRA had become a very real part of my identity. I was 3 when I was diagnosed. That means that for (at the time) 22 out of 25 years of my life, I struggled with and I identified with a person that had Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. It was a very real and tangible part of my identity. It was as much a part of how I defined myself as being from Ohio or coming from a Greek family. It was woven into the fabric of my identity and removing those threads of “who I was” was…work. A constant awareness and work.
Second, and I’m going to get very vulnerable and honest here, probably equally as challenging as having to shift the way I viewed myself, was having to become aware of and then finding the courage and motivation to get rid of my victim mentality. For so many years, I was a victim to my disease. It defined who I was, what I was able to do, how others viewed me, and how I viewed myself. It put limits on my physical ability, but then again, so did I. It pains me to say that I often used it as an excuse to not face challenges, to get out of doing things that were hard, and I willingly accepted any sympathy that others offered me due to my disease. Taking my power back was HARD. Taking ownership of my “limitations” and of my limiting beliefs was HARD…but it was worth it. I mean, it was REALLY worth it.
This week, while I am not quite at the anniversary point of where I had finally weaned myself off of all of my medications, I am grateful. During this rainy, humid, wet week, I don’t feel a thing and for that I am beyond feeling mere gratitude. It is a sign of the immense healing that I have had the honor of experiencing, but it is also a sign of my strength. Today, I am celebrating my growth, challenges, and healing.
Writing with gratitude and love–Maria