Friday, December 23, 2016

Clinging to Mary

      I suppose the holidays are supposed to be cheery and delightful (for the record I am feeling very joyful myself these days), but as with most things, I think there is a much more complex side to all of this that we rarely take the time to figure out.

       Last night was rough for me. My knees and hips were hurting more than usual, and I have a cold, which is not the end of the world but is causing me a certain amount of anxiety since I am scheduled for surgery on Tuesday. At one o'clock in the morning, I managed to hit my head on my sink faucet (don't ask) and it sent me straight to tears of embarrassment and exhaustion and frustration. If you add the entire cup of coffee that my typically caffeine-free body drank last night to this equation, you understand why I was having significant trouble sleeping and feeling especially anxious about my health.

      Symptoms affect me at all hours of the day, but the nights always seem to be the most miserable. There is something about the darkness that makes pain feel like it might never end. Realistically, I know that this seemingly negative outlook might be true. The most honest thing might be pain for all of this life. There may never be a day where I wake up and feel just like my friends do. There may never be a day in which I have all of the energy and strength of a healthy person.

One of my favorite theological images:
Mary consoling Eve.
     Religious faith has always been (and will likely always be) a complex topic for me. For some peculiar, unknown reason, I have had absolutely zero doubts about God or what the long-term future holds over the last two or three months. Questions that used to push me toward theology books or long, detailed trains of thought during boring classes no longer perplex me, despite the plethora of mysteries I still find in my religion. I have no idea why this is, but I have found myself very fixated on the moment in which I will meet God. I am so excited for that and so joyfully amazed at the thought of coming face-to-face with someone so good and wonderful. For the time being, I am much more interested in dreaming about what God will be like than I am in contemplating God's existence. I am constantly imagining what "heaven," or a renewed world might be like. I feel like I am always getting these beautiful glimpses of it, and the thought of seeing it in its fullness is so overwhelmingly gorgeous to me. Every good thing that happens seems like a small taste of the ultimate greatness that is to come. Every challenge seems so temporary when I think of all that lies ahead of me and of all of us.

      When I was recently describing my pet-friendly Episcopal church in New Orleans to a friend, I excitedly revealed, "I get to go to mass and sit behind a chihuahua. That is my heaven!" Even though it sounded (and was) ridiculous, I like to think that there is a place for that sort of thing in the full presence of God. I like to think that all of the chords in each hymn sound perfect and even the smallest creatures are welcomed in. I like to think that I get to sing "O Come All Ye Faithful" while harmonizing with the entire world and dancing with my cat. And I like to think that there are no swollen knees or unreliable ankles or achy hips. And I like to think that everyone's fingers can turn the pages of the Book of Common Prayer without any stiffness.

     Normally during the Christmas season I find myself so fixated on the human embodiment of God that the other parts of the Nativity sort of become a blurred story in my mind. But this year, I have found myself concentrating a lot on Mary. Perhaps it is because the recent political climate has rooted me further in my identity as a girl and as a woman. I think a lot about what Mary must have felt and how terrified she must have been. I think a lot about how God placed so much power in such a young girl. Although I am certainly no Mary, keeping her in my mind during miserable nights of congestion and joint pain and fear seems to make things a little easier. She is already in that wonderful place that I am allowed the privilege of glimpsing into, and sometimes I find myself jealous of all that she knows now. Growing up Baptist, no one in my religious community ever placed a lot of emphasis on Mary, but lately I have been participating in a lot of more traditional services and communities that focus on her regularly. So at night, when everything hurts and I am afraid of surgeries being cancelled and I am longing for something purer and better, I find myself clinging to Mary, who I am sure had her fair share of sleepless nights and pain and tears. I wonder what she is like and pray that I will be able to meet her one day.

       Happy holidays, dear friends. I wish you more good days than bad ones and more health than pain. And if you find yourself alone and hurting on a dark winter night, it just might be worth thinking of Mary.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Flying with RA - Eight Tips & Tricks

      Now that I am attending college 800+ miles away from home, plane rides have become a frequent experience of mine. Traveling is always fun, but traveling with rheumatoid arthritis can be a bit tricky at times. I hope the tips below are helpful and relevant to you, especially with the holiday season of travel chaos coming up! Let me know if you have any additional tips or other suggestions.

1. Make a checklist of your medications, and be thorough about ensuring that they are all in your carry-on bag before you head to the airport. I am always forgetting at least one thing. It's always worth checking, even if you're confident. I learned this the hard way; you don't have to.
Cute, disposable face masks that
can help you stay healthy on flights!

2. Wear a mask in the airport and on the plane, depending on your level of immunosuppression. I recently discussed with providers at the Student Health Center and my new rheumatologist how important this precaution is for people who get sick easily, and how germ-y airports are.

3. If you can help it, refrain from bringing heavy carry-on items. I am completely guilty of this and could stand to take my own advice here, but heavy carry-ons are just a bad idea all around. Checked luggage will save your knees, shoulders, elbows, back, and wrists from the difficulties of dragging around an enormous backpack or deceptively heavy little suitcase. Plus, all the work you might think you're going to do on the plane is not actually going to happen (at least in my experience...) so you might as well toss it into a larger, checked bag and call it a day.
A blue injection case with
elastic bands to hold 3 shots.

4. Obtain a little travel case for your injections! The travel case pictured on the right has an icepack inside that should be frozen before you leave for the airport, and my mom always puts the prescription label on the outside (the pictured case is flipped around to protect my personal information), just in case I am questioned about it by TSA. Inside, the case has little elastic bands that will hold as many shots as you need to carry.

5. Sleep well before you fly, and do not count on sleeping on the plane. There is a high chance that if you try to squeeze in a nap while several miles up in the air you will end up with some uncomfortable joints for days to come.

6. Use a wheelchair in the airport if you need to. I have had to do this before, and it is not as awful as it might sound. Airports can be enormous, and you do not want to be exhausted from walking through the terminals before you even reach your destination. If you are traveling alone, the airport can usually provide for someone to help you get from the entrance of the airport to the gate, and then from the gate to the plane. It might feel embarrassing to not be able to do it all yourself, but it is better than damaging your joints.

7. Pre-board if you need to. At the beginning of the boarding process, the gate agent will announce pre-boarding for anyone who has a disability or needs extra time to get from the gate onto the airplane. Do not be afraid to use this; you may receive undue pushback if your disease is invisible, but do what is best for you.

8. If you are on a long flight, make sure to stand up and stretch! Aisle seats might be preferable for this reason. Standing up and walking, even if it is just to the restroom and back, will help prevent your joints from stiffening up.

      Flying is completely possible for people with rheumatoid arthritis, and while traveling with painful joints may seem daunting, above are eight concrete steps that you can take to improve your experience. Keep spreading your wings!