I am right-handed.
I am so right-handed that when I have chosen to drive with my left hand low on the steering wheel to give my right shoulder and hand a rest, I will look down and see that I have changed back to the right without deciding to do it consciously.
So although rheumatoid arthritis is noteworthy for being a parallel disease in which joints on both sides are affected, my right wrist, fingers and shoulder hurt more because I cannot seem to help using them more. I am trying, all day and every day, to adjust my habits, but some things we do so reflexively!
This disease, this condition, this ailment, this illness–I don't like any of those descriptors, I often use "condition" because it amuses me to speak of "what condition my condition is in"–this situation demands that I become conscious of some of the things I do and many of the ways I think reflexively. It demands that I look differently at my life.
Just a few months ago I spent a lot of time thinking about when I could get into a pair of size 12 jeans. I'm still thinking about it, but not because I care what other people will think about how I look. Yes, that was part of how I was thinking about it. I wanted to prove something to the world, or perhaps I wanted to prove it to myself and see my reflection in the world's eyes.
Now I'm thinking about having less weight to support with stiff joints, joints I might damage by my own wrong usage since they may already be compromised by, well, my condition.
My right hand and my right shoulder bother me most of all, and I'm sure that is because I use them so much. I'm at a funny point in the medication process, on a reduced dose of prednisone and a fairly typical dose of methotrexate, and there is a real difference as the prednisone decreases, and it's not a good difference, either because the methotrexate isn't doing all it can yet or will eventually, or possibly because it's not a drug that will work for me.
So I'm stiffer and more sore than a couple of weeks ago, but on the bright side I'm sleeping at night (no more middle-of-the-night prednisone-fueled euphoric insomnia, which is a good thing). I'm nowhere near the level of pain and stiffness I had in April and May, when a long time sitting might mean I couldn't get my legs under me to walk, or when I couldn't roll over in bed. I bet I didn't blog about that, because one of my reflex actions is to deny things that are really bad, an example of employing denial as a spiritual survival practice. I'm not sure how I was able to do that when I woke in the middle of the night and could not bend the fingers on my right hand.
Now bending the fingers on my right hand, curling them in toward my palm, has become a reflex action. I do it as soon as I wake up, almost before I am fully awake. I want my fingers to work! I want to use them to knit, to chop, to wash, to stroke, to pet, so many things.
Today I shook an older woman's hand and she commented that my handshake was weak. It's not, really. But I am protecting my joints the only way I know how, discouraging a hard grip from others by making mine softer.
Today I used my right hand to scoop the water from the font and pour it on a five-month-old baby's head, a sitting-up baby clasped in my stronger left arm. My rotator cuffs are among the joints affected, the right more painful than the left, and even lifting my arm to put my hand on his head strained the joint.
There are things I have to be able to do, to throw my arm up into the air when I give the benediction, to shake hands with people after worship, to pour the juice into a cup and lift it, to break the bread: my reflex actions on a Sunday morning.