I have a friend who has mentioned to me several times that I am an "inspiration" to her for living through pain each day and enduring all that comes with rheumatoid arthritis. She tells me she admires my strength and doesn't know if she could ever handle life with chronic pain.
While I'm grateful for my friend's thoughtfulness in sharing this with me, I find her comments very curious. Why does she think life with an illness, incurable or otherwise, is heroic? Is my life really that different from hers? Isn't everyone living heroically in some way?
If I focus on details such as multiple medications, constant fatigue, insomnia, and visiting doctors and phlebotomists every other month, then yes, my life is probably much different from hers. She most likely does not have to deal with the frustrating bureaucracy of the health care system. Germs and handshakes probably aren't a huge problem for her.
Does the fact that my life includes such details mean I am a hero? I really don't think so.
Honestly, I don't really have a choice in how I live my life with regard to health. I have to take the medication, find ways to alleviate fatigue and insomnia, and see my doctor and get blood tests even if I don't want to. This is my life. This is my reality. It's simply the way it is.
So is it heroic to get out of bed in the morning even though I barely slept? Am I considered strong when I continue typing even though my fingers hurt? Is it heroic to say "I'm fine" when someone asks how I am, even though I am never actually "fine"?
I think what my friend really means is she can't quite understand how I live with RA. She would find ways to deal with it if she had a chronic illness too, she just can't see that right now. If one doesn't have an illness, one can't truly understand what life is like with an illness. The only way is to live it.
I see myself as no different from my friend. I have obligations and responsibilities, bills to pay and loved ones to support. I enjoy my hobbies, vacations and holidays. I endure the tough times and celebrate the good times. Every person is living with some form of pain.
I'm not a hero, just a person who happened to wake up one day with RA.