In My Sixtieth Year: Reflection, Transformation, And Acceptance
Turning sixty has provided me with an opportunity for reflection. Not that I don’t reflect about one thing or another anyway, but turning sixty seems to be a milestone that deserves a look back at the last six decades. Although life has had its challenges and successes, I never thought I would become seriously ill, but I did. And it’s that experience which has probably affected me the most.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an auto-immune condition where the synovial lining of the joints along with all connective tissue is attacked by the body’s own immune system creating an arthritic response. It can be acute or chronic but when it’s chronic, people suffer to varying degrees. In my case, the RA was severe for thirteen years when I finally achieved clinical remission using both raw cannabis and concentrated forms of processed cannabis when prescription drugs were ineffective.
I’m not sure when it was that I realized that no one was interested in finding solutions let alone acknowledging how ill I was. Instead, they ignored my repeated requests for a diuretic to deal with all the fluid I was retaining and prescribed more and more drugs to deal with each new symptom I developed. So I suffered until I began medicating with cannabis concentrates. Within two and one-half months, I was in clinical remission and the fluid I had retained for thirteen years was gone and I was slowly and deliberately discontinuing the toxic mess of prescriptions I was taking. I stayed on Humira for another three and a half years and then discontinued that in September 2015 with no return of symptoms.
During those years when I was so ill, it felt as if I was sloshing around in boiling hot water in a body that I didn’t recognize. RA sufferers do just that: suffer. I couldn’t get away from the pain and swelling because it was ever-present. The inflammation alone raised my body temperature from a normal 96.8 to almost 99 degrees. I had always run a lower temperature than normal but now, instead of freezing all of the time, I was overly warm. I shocked people if I touched them so one day, in a moment of chronic illness humor, my husband grabbed his voltmeter and took a reading on my arm. We discovered that instead of running a negative number, mine was positive. After some googling, I discovered that that fact alone was significant. For optimum health, we need to have a negative reading and mine was around positive 4 if memory serves.
In addition to the physical sensation of being on the inside of a bubble looking out, after several years of severe chronic illness, I felt invisible. It felt as if the world was passing me by and in my worst moments, I worried that everyone was waiting for me to die. I felt that I was a burden to my husband who had to take care of me and our home on five acres. We owned a motorcycle shop and worked constantly. I probably should have stayed home more but I was there as much as my husband was, the first six years averaging 98-hour work weeks. As sick as I was, we worked seven days a week, putting in two extra days when we weren’t open to keep on schedule. It was only the two of us there with my husband doing all of the mechanical work so we really had no choice. And as ill as I was, it was a challenge that I met although I still have no clue how I did that.
Our boys were in college when all of this began. I had to run a business while supporting their needs during college, and with my failing health, I did it, but not always well. But the boys had homeschooled for the last part of their education and I wasn’t about to turn my back on them while they were in college. I was ultimately responsible for the choice to homeschool, so I couldn’t abandon them, no matter how difficult it was to make the three-hour trip one way to see each of them. Sitting for any length of time was difficult and the constant pain I was in made traveling difficult. In the end, they both graduated and have successful careers, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. They were worth it.
While the boys were away at college, our contact with them was somewhat limited so I’m not sure they realized how much my condition had deteriorated over time. It wasn’t that they weren’t interested, but unless you’re around someone with a chronic illness, it’s difficult to truly understand what we go through just to get through the day. It’s like when I began taking blood pressure medication. I didn’t realize how bad I felt until my blood pressure was back under control. So the boys may not have realized how dicey things had become at the time I became a cannabis patient. They encouraged me to become a patient but until I went into remission and everything changed and I began looking like their mother again, I’m not sure they realized how bad things had gotten.
Again, chronic illness makes us invisible to others. We slow everything down because we can’t easily move about. People who already know us become accustomed to how we’ve changed and may not remember who we were pre-illness. It’s not meant to be insensitive but basically reflects the impact chronic illness has on those around us. We all become used to something that should raise all sorts of alarms.
Airports and big box stores are a nightmare as are parking lots. If I had to move quickly, I couldn’t. I used a cane for most of the thirteen years because I fell and tore the inner meniscus in my left knee. I couldn’t walk without a cane. It was awful. So I took advantage of moving walkways in airports but I couldn’t bring myself to use a motorized scooter or obtain a disabled parking permit.
You see, I could never believe what was happening to me. It simply made no sense and when I read Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton, I decided that I was done being ill. I guess my body wanted to be sure about that because after I made that decision, I became so ill I thought I would die. I had no idea someone with severe RA could get worse, but that’s what happened. When I was finally prescribed a second blood pressure pill containing a diuretic I lost so much fluid that within two weeks I was in a flare that lasted more than a year. I developed a massive infection in my jaw and required two dental implants. I was prescribed a drug called mycophenolate or Cellcept as it’s also known, a last-ditch effort to deal with a CRP of 46.5. Apparently, anything over 25 is not good. The side effects I experienced from the drug were horrible. I discontinued it on my own prior to beginning my cannabis treatment which would ultimately prove considerably more effective than anything I had been prescribed in all that time.
My life has returned to normal for the most part and although I have what’s likely some permanent joint damage from RA, I can do nearly everything that I want to do with few limitations. But here’s the thing. Even though I’m in clinical remission, the psychological and emotional effects of my illness affect me still. Chronic illness doesn’t just make a person feel invisible to others, it can also create a disconnect that’s difficult to reverse. It’s like I’m still trying to catch up with people who moved on and continued living while I was stuck somewhere else. Because although I survived and I’m physically doing well, it sometimes feels like I don’t fit anywhere anymore. Like I’m on a separate wavelength from others or that I’ve been absent so long that I don’t know them anymore.
I’ve wrestled with what to do about it and I’ve finally decided to just accept how I feel. It feels transitional so I don’t want to interfere with that process and create resistance to its unfolding. I’m alive and I’m sixty years old, an amazing feat, all things considered. My husband and I celebrated our thirty-ninth anniversary last May and we’re happiest puttering around our five acres where we garden endlessly and keep bees, or they keep us, I’m not really sure at this point.
In a way, it’s like my life has begun anew, with transformation giving way to acceptance, of the past as well as of the present. For whatever reason, I chose to experience what it was to be seriously ill. I didn’t anticipate such uncharted territory, but I welcome it just the same.
Originally published at www.imsteppingaside.com on July 10, 2018.