The hardest thing for people to understand about RA is the ebbs and flows of fatigue and pain symptoms. One moment, I can be so tired I’m unable to move from the couch, every step met with sharp pain or a dull internal throb. The next, I’m hiking a 14er or doing a high altitude half marathon. I don’t blame people for being confused.
But here’s what mountains and marathons mean to me:
When I have a flare, I get depressed. Yes, I know logically that physical symptoms have nothing to do with my mental state and that I am separate from my symptoms. But not feeling like yourself or being able to do what you want to do is depressing.
I think the symptom that gets to me the most is fatigue. The all-encompassing heaviness makes me apathetic, which leads to many hours on the couch in front of the TV, which makes me depressed, which makes me more fatigued, which makes me more depressed, and on, and on. I think you get the picture.
So on days I feel good, like really good, I am jubilant. Unstoppable.
Sign me up for a 4:30am wake up call to climb three 14,000 foot mountains in one day. Upgrade me from that 10K to a half marathon.
Give me a challenge, I want to take on the world. I want to celebrate my body and all of its strength, power and agility.
ESPECIALLY because I know all too well what it feels like to have that strength, power and agility seep away. Because of that, I embrace the good and celebrate it when it comes around.
As I told my parents, I’ll take the achy, sore muscles and satisfactory tiredness of a strenuous workout over RA pain and fatigue ANY DAY. In fact, the feeling of sore muscles makes me happy because it reminds me how strong my body is.
Sometimes pushing myself like this means I “pay for it” with more symptoms later. I used to try to regulate my exertion because of that. But I’m realizing that’s not me. I’d rather go big when I can and rest when I need to than live a more regulated life (with seemingly as many random flares) somewhere in the safe zone.
Now I know I’m quite lucky to be able to climb mountains and run races. For many with RA, this is not at all a possibility. But I hope that within any limitations you have, you are able to celebrate the good days with your own version of a mountain, acknowledging all that your body still does for you.