Does Rheumatoid Arthritis define us?
Recently on the blog, Noelle wrote about a warning from her nurse friends to not allow Rheumatoid Arthritis to “define” her. I could not respond to Noelle adequately in the little comment box. Don’t you feel cramped in there?
"A couple of my nurse friends have told me to not allow the RA to define me. I haven't totally wrapped my head around that concept and how I go about doing that, but this week I think the RA is calling the shots."
Actually, I already had an outline for a post on “defining ourselves” squirreled away in my files. So, change of plans for today. Let’s go ahead and face down one more phantom!
What or who defines us? Does RA hinder or help the matter?
Let’s look at it.
Defining oneself is a primary psychological occupation during youth. I have loved watching my own nineteen year-old to do that. Even her mundane choices are important as she is defining herself. She picks out everything from favorite foods and clothing styles and music to Bible verses to help her identify herself. Yes, her values are reflected by her choices. But she is also marking out a plan for who she wants to be and how she will be identified by others.
When we are young, we explore and choose what we want to use to define ourselves. I have enjoyed watching my daughter do it because it triggered memories in me of making those choices. It is an empowering feeling of youth: that you can define who you will be. It is an enjoyable time. Our goals tend to be ambitious and fearless.
During the next stage of life, the wonderfully productive middle years, mostly we define ourselves by what we do. Our occupations and responsibilities and our influence equal who we are. At least we think so. This is legitimate, too, in some ways.
But there are drawbacks. Eventually, as we near retirement, most of us must re-evaluate those definitions once again. Ever heard of a mid-life crisis? Or empty-nest syndrome? What are we apart from our accomplishments and qualifications?
If things go well, we generate more significant ways to define ourselves when we are older. Life eventually forces us into that. We learn to emphasize more mature aspects of our character and preferences. I think it is similar in some ways to the first stage because there is less focus on performance.
RA-ers are blessed. We get a shortcut to the subsequent stage of self definition. It’s like the self-definition fairy comes one night and makes a trade. You know how the tooth fairy trades baby teeth for a quarter? Well, the RA fairy just takes away many of those things which we do that we think best define us. One day we are running our lives just fine and then… poof! Gone.
What are we when we no longer do the things that defined us? When there are no more masks or props to help us define ourselves? We are whatever it is that we truly value. We are whatever it was that motivated us to do the things that we did when we could do them. We are our character and our spirit.
Actually, Noelle, a woman said that to me too once. It was when I was first diagnosed. And it has haunted me, too – until today. Next time someone tells you not to let Rheumatoid Arthritis define you, tell him about the RA self-definition fairy.