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.