When you first develop or are diagnosed with a chronic illness, there are a million things rushing through your mind. Some big and some small but each equally important as the other. One of these main things that crossed my mind, and I began to dwell on was, “how will this impact my love for exercise and adventure?” Since I was young, I loved to be active, whether it was running, swimming, hiking, or whatever adventure my friends and family would drag me into—I was down for anything. My mom frequently tells the story of how as a five year old at my grandparents house in the mountains of North Carolina, I would take my hiking stick to the front of the group and insist on being the leader or as I would say “the weader.” I was always the first to say “yes” to an activity, but during my young twenties when my Rheumatoid Arthritis kicked in, those activities—late night runs around the track at school, and trips with friends began to dwindle. Even at times when my body could have handled it, my fear kept me from participating.

I do want to give you a little insight into the details of my Rheumatoid Arthritis and how it has affected my body. My inflammation began in my feet, then my hands, and eventually my knees, shoulders, and even eyes. I’ve had many, many days of not being able to walk or even open a water bottle with my hands. Those first few years were the hardest, I was in the process of experimenting with many prescription medications and natural therapies. I was having to relearn how to use my body and complete some of the simplest tasks like putting my hair in a ponytail.

It has now been almost six years since I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I am out of college, living in my own home with my fiancé, working on my own company, and partaking in all the adventures my heart desires (except it is still 2020, so those are limited as such). Over the last few years, I have gone in and out of remission a few times. I’ve experienced extreme pain but also days where I could almost forget for a moment that I was ever diagnosed with the disease. This is all to say that it varies over time, it is always changing and it will remain unpredictable, but striving for adventure and movement should not have to.

My love for the outdoors and exercise has not died down even in the slightest. I’ve been discouraged at times but it was actually this year during quarantine that I have learned the most about my body, what it is capable of doing and when I need to put on the brakes.

At the start of 2020, my Rheumatoid Arthritis I would best describe was at an average. I was able to do all my daily chores, play with the dog, and move around but I wouldn’t exactly call it “comfortable.” The first month of quarantine in March was a bit rough for me. The inflammation in my hands, feet, and knees was escalating and with the lockdown rules and my fear of leaving my apartment with my weak immune system, I started to move less and less. This gave me a flashback of 2016, which was the year toughest on my joints. I thought about how I stopped moving completely that year, the discouragement I felt for so long, and longing for some normalcy in my life. After a year that felt like hell in 2016, I managed to start moving again and I remembered how joyous that felt for me physically and mentally.

This spring I thought about that moment and decided to spring into action. My fiancé Graham and I began our daily walks. We found a few parks and trails in the neighborhood and started rotating them daily. My feet would start out sore but by the end of the walk, I felt that nice stretch in them that provided me with comfort. Even if I knew the mornings would be stiff, I knew my daily walk would stretch it out. All of a sudden the days and months started to fly by. We started planning weekend trips to secluded destinations with my best friend and her boyfriend, who we knew were properly socially distancing as well. We headed to the lake, the beach, and the mountains. I was swimming in the ocean and hiking to the most beautiful waterfalls. I made it up mountains that even “pre-Rheumatoid Arthritis me” had never climbed. Even six years after being diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I am still learning new things daily. I did not have to be the fastest runner or work out the hardest. It is all about doing these activities at a steady pace — your own pace. Hiking up these mountains, I learned not to be embarrassed to sit down. I may have been at the back of the group and had to take a break more times than everyone else but that didn’t mean I could not participate. I could make it up that mountain, I just had to do it on my own time. The days following these adventures, I found my body sore. Sometimes with arthritis it can be hard to tell if it’s a normal, natural sore or if it’s in relation to your joints. Either way, I knew this meant I needed to take some time and give my feet the extra attention they needed. All the epsom salt hot baths, compression socks, and foot massages are welcome after a hike.

My body and joints are not in the top shape that they have been in since being diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. In the last six years, I have had much better days, but they also are not stopping me from doing the things I love most. It is all about that before and after care of your joints that matter so much and most importantly it is about going at a slower pace. I know that it is so cliché to mention the story of the rabbit and the turtle but it is retold for a reason I’ve learned. It does not matter how fast you complete something, slow and steady can still win the race. I am still getting to participate in my favorite activities, I just have to adjust them accordingly to my body. I was thinking back to our trip to the beach this summer and how I had been experiencing aches in my feet. Graham asked if I wanted to take a long walk on the beach down to the peninsula. I was hesitant, telling him I wasn’t sure how far I could make it. He said as soon as I needed to turn around, we would do so. As we started walking barefoot down the beach, I noticed how the sand floor and the ocean water flowing against my feet actually felt good. The uneven floor had a massaging affect on the bottom of my feet. It could feel the sand go into areas that even my hands could not always knead with my fingers. You never know what benefits you’ll find on your adventure. Some of them may not be ideal but others will surprise you in a magnificent way. My Rheumatoid Arthritis may be here for a lifetime but my adventures will be as well.

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