When I was a sophomore and junior in high school, the refrain was constant -”What do you want to do? What do you want to be? You have to prepare for college”. Underlying that message was another one – maybe I was the only one who heard it – “You have to decide now, it’s for the rest of your life!”. I didn’t know what I wanted to be and the thought of picking the wrong thing and being stuck with it for the rest of my life scared the pants off me. Maybe that’s why I have never really been able to decide what I want to be when I grow up. I went to junior college to be a teacher – I chose it just to get them off my back. Later I was attracted to commercial art school and went for two years – I didn’t go the third year and I never worked as a commercial artist because I didn’t really believe in my creativity or talent. There, I said it and the world hasn’t collapsed! I do have talent and creativity, only took me 55 years to say it out loud. Then I went to work for Boeing as a tech illustrator – the art school figured anyone working for Boeing was prostituting their art. Then I met Eddie and I got married – I made the safe choice. Except it wasn’t so safe because I didn’t feel secure; I worked at the beginning of our marriage in Australia and when we first got back to the States. Then I was diagnosed with RA and working wasn’t really an option. Plus I didn’t want to be a department store salesclerk all my life. The confession – I realize now I was hiding behind RA so no one would expect much from me. For some people who know me, this is no big news flash. You are wondering what I was hiding from – it was the world. Of course I am the only one in history ever to do this!
From the time I can remember, the message was always “The world is a scary place” from parents, the news, society, school – everywhere. That made me afraid and very unsure of myself. I didn’t feel I had any abilities or talents, what could I do in the world? So all those messages in high school certainly didn’t help. The other message was to make sure to be safe and secure before venturing out, not conducive to taking a risk. So I was scared to move from my safe little cocoon. Yes, I did go by myself to Australia to get married – Mom and Dad at one end and Eddie on the other. Most my travels and adventures have always had someone on either or both ends, I wasn’t all on my own fending for myself. That was probably what I needed to learn to be self reliant and trust myself but I was too scared to do it. I will say that having Eddie travel a lot helped me to be more independent because I had to take care of things while he was away. A friend really had to point it out to me because I didn’t know it.
All these years I felt I really had to go out and find a job, except I didn’t think I was qualified to do anything nor did I have confidence in my abilities. It was easier to do volunteer work because volunteers are always welcome. I could make my own hours and travel with my husband when opportunities arose. When it came to RA, I felt myself a victim for along time; an innocent bystander sideswiped by RA for no reason. Someone thought it was payback for another lifetime – I decided I had better have had one hell of a good time if this was payback. I pictured myself trapped in rusty suit of armor – the outside was not me. If you looked inside, you would see the real me trapped and not able to get out. Great images for a victim.
The question is – am I a victim? No, I have learned it is simply cause and effect, no blame. It has flitted through my mind that I have done this myself, but only for an instant because it is too painful. Also, another club to beat myself up with and make me feel even worse. Thank goodness it wasn’t something terminal! As I look back over my life with RA, there has been a lot of positive from it. I made speeches and taught classes for the Connecticut Chapter of Arthritis Foundation, quite a few times I knew when I did but I have decided that I was most effect going along doing my thing and being myself. It isn’t necessary for me to always know I helped someone, that leads to a swelled head and no longer effective. There must be something in this I was meant to do and be, though it has been very hard to see it from this angle.
My goal now is to still be effective and help others in different ways without RA. As always, I am a work in progress.