Jul 272012

For the past few years, I’ve been trying to keep two very distinct realities in my life separate.  I’m not exactly sure why I felt the need to separate one from the other, but regardless, they are now merged whether I like it or not.

I can no longer pretend that living an adventure-filled, high activity, travel-intensive life comes without personal consequences.  And no longer can I pretend that gearing up to shore dive, and plodding around with a heavy tank strapped to my back (not to mention the 12 pound weight belt sitting at my hips) is a piece of cake.  This self-proclaimed adventure girl can no longer pretend that 7-10 consecutive days filled with diving and snorkeling is a breeze.

I didn’t want my blog to become dominated by musings of illness and disability.  Perhaps that’s why I never wrote about the challenges of being a diver, snorkeler and world-traveler with a disabling disease.

Almost three years ago, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).  RA is a chronic, progressive, auto-immune disease in which the body attacks its own joints, tendons and internal organs.  It’s accompanied by many symptoms, but among the most common are pain (often severe), stiffness, a flu-like feeling, joint destruction and extreme fatigue.  I also have chronic sacroiliitis, most likely a form of spondylitis, which is a related auto-immune disease causing episodes of severe back pain and stiffness (sometimes rendering me unable to stand for more than 2-3 minutes at a time).  These diseases are often called “invisible illnesses”, because those affected often do not “look sick”.

These conditions don’t exactly make it easy for me to continue living my high-activity lifestyle, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.  What’s become increasingly apparent is that modifications must be made.  Three dives per day might turn into two, one, or, “gasp”, a day of rest on vacation (previously unheard of for me).  A two-hour snorkeling expedition might turn into a 45-minute sojourn.  And those hour-long hikes, complete with intense vertical climbs up the cliff, may become twenty minutes of light walking on the treadmill.

Hopefully, this doesn’t make me any less cool, any less adventurous or any less of an underwater explorer.

I’ve learned a lot since I received this diagnosis three years ago.  I’ve learned that the human body is capable of amazing things.  I’ve learned that I can still be active, still go diving and snorkeling, and that I’m still the same person as before. I’ve learned that adequate rest is absolutely essential if I want to keep doing these things.  I’ve learned that those who perservere and triumph in the face of disability and/or adversity have my utmost respect.  I’ve learned to ask for help when I need it.  And most importantly, I’ve learned not to judge others, because things are not always what they seem.

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  8 Responses to “Things Are Not Always What They Seem”

  1. Hi, I just happened by your blog because I was looking for information on scuba diving with RA. Like yourself, I am a world traveler and have always led a very active lifestyle hiking and scuba diving all over the world. Two years ago I was diagnosed with RA. I feel your pain and deeply sympathize.

    • Cara, thanks for your kind comment. I sympathize with you as well, and I truly hope that you can continue diving. With RA, it is important that we stay active. However, staying active can be quite painful. It is a series of trade-offs. Best wishes to you.

  2. Thanks for this post. I’m a very active person myself – 48 years old and played ice hockey, ball hockey, softball, hiked, mountain biked, strength trained, ran, etc. Over the past few years I’ve had to eliminate activities due to pain that was identified as RA only 8 months ago. I’m back doing nearly everything I love, just not quite so competitively. In fact, I’m adding to my list of passions – I’m only three dives away from my Open Water Certification and I’m learning Western riding.
    I’ve discovered that I thought people had to look sick to be sick. This disease has changed my perspective and made me a better more compassionate person. I hope you continue to manage your illness and get the most out of your life. The game is still the same, we just have to adjust our targets!!
    Best regards,

    • Debbie, a special thanks to you for sharing your story. I really admire your strength and attitude, and I congratulate you on your impending Open Water certification. RA can and will throw you a curve ball, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t hit the ball! Keep on keeping on!!

  3. The only judgements to be made are that you are an amazing person with a wonderful outlook on life. Having witnessed what you have had to go through the last several years and have never once complained only makes me realize that you are actually cooler than me! (never thought I would say that did you. LOL). Beside I would be more than happy on our next vacation to paradise somewhere to just sit in shade on a beach somewhere and hang out with my big sister! And just maybe if the pain is to much, we’ll just have to resort to drinking your favorite drink, PAINKILLERS!

    I love you and I think you are very brave!

  4. Have you ever tried acupuncture for your RA? I treat a lot of patients with RA and see awesome results. How awesome that you’ve decided to persevere!!!

    • Hi Andi, for some reason your comment ended up in my spam queue. I’m so sorry! But thankfully I found it.

      I had two acupuncture sessions in the past, and it didn’t help much. However, I’m not sure I had the most skilled practitioner, since I found a needle stuck in my shirt when I got home. Ouch! Maybe I’ll revisit this.

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