Saturday, August 6, 2016

Climbing (Literal) Mountains

       Last Saturday I climbed a mountain.

At a Diamond Head lookout, reppin' the Green Wave.
        Even though I was flaring the day before we were scheduled to make the hike, I was determined to go. The last time we were in O'ahu, my sister and my mom climbed Diamond Head without me - I was simply too sick. While I had a nice time with my dad while they were hiking, I was determined to climb it the next time we found ourselves in Hawaii, and so that is exactly what I did.

      I was doing pretty well for the first little stretch, which mainly involves weaving through rocky, inclined pathways and remembering to slow down and enjoy the view every once in awhile. I was on the move and excited about it. I felt pain in my knees but trudged on, thinking that if I paused or took a break it would only worsen the pain. Our steady pace invigorated me, and it isn't a long climb (only .8 miles up), so I was prematurely feeling on top of the mountain world.

    Unfortunately, my joints were not similarly enthused about the trip. I made it up the first set of stairs but was in an immense amount of pain. I have been trying all day to think of a way to describe it. The pain is not sharp, but by no means is it dull. It is mentally overwhelming and makes me want to self-amputate my legs, but it is also eerily familiar.

This sea turtle wasn't part of the hike, but it was
pretty cute so I thought it deserved a spot here.
     After the staircase, when we were walking up a steep pathway in a dark tunnel, the pain became way too much, and I ended up having to take a break and lean over a railing. Stop reading here if you're prone to queasiness, but I threw up twice before being able to keep moving. Sometimes when the joint pain gets that bad, the stomach just has to follow. "I'm going to get to the top," I assured my ever-patient mother, who waited with me. There was no way I was climbing 75% of a mountain and sending myself into a flare complete with nausea without being able to say that I climbed the whole thing. No. Way. With fiery knees and an equally fiery heart, I trekked up to the top after a few more short breaks. My broken body made it all the way to the peak look-out.

     As I looked out over Honolulu, for the first time in a long time, I felt truly and unreservedly proud of myself.

     These moments of pride and self-worth have been much harder to come by since I was diagnosed with arthritis. Even opening a peanut butter jar feels like way more than I can handle sometimes, so I do not exactly applaud myself for making it up the stairs or walking to class by myself. I'm not advocating for this style of thinking or attitude towards self-value, but I often feel as though anything I do decently is cancelled out by all of the help I need. Of course I make good grades in calculus, I once thought after someone complimented a test grade of mine, otherwise what would I be here for? I needed help walking to first period and I'm a difficult student for my teachers. I'm not great at being a cheerleader for myself, and although this will not come as a surprise to most people who know me, it is never exactly something I have been open about, and it is also never something that I have felt any of my healthy friends have understood.

     In a way, constantly beating myself up is just another mountain I am trying to climb. This past week has included joint pain, middle-of-the-night sickness, and 3 a.m. phone calls with nurses. It has included shots and inhalers and Hawaiian-style pharmacies. All of these things have certainly felt like mountains. While I am proud of myself for sticking with the hike even when it got hard and for accomplishing my goal despite my knee and hip pain, realistically I know that the literal mountains are the least important ones. I would rather be a wonderful friend or caring student or empathic listener than reach a physical summit. Nevertheless, reaching the top of the actual, literal mountain was a monumental accomplishment for me and a timely reminder that I always have been and always will be stronger than juvenile arthritis.

    There are and will be many other mountains, but they don't make the one I conquered on Saturday any less significant. My name is Rachel, I have arthritis, and I climb mountains.

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