When I worked for the UAB Arthritis Center, I was charged with putting out a newsletter for the patients to help educate and motivate them toward a better quality of life. My husband, Craig and I came up with a comic strip called, Spilt Milk, to include to add some humor about the ironies of life with RA. Dr. Lorish had a page in every issue called Makin’ Lemonade. Before ever working at the Arthritis Center, this column had a profound affect on my life. (Perhaps on another day, you would be interest to hear more.)
If you were a young adult when diagnosed with RA, I am sure you can identify with the perils of parking in a handicapped parking space. RA has so many hidden impairments that strangers frequently feel it is their duty to remind you that you don’t look handicapped to them. Craig and I agreed that this would be a good subject for the strip. Craig is a retired comic book artist. He worked for the big companies in New York (Marvel, DC, etc) on and off for 20 years.
When someone would stop me back when I was young(er), Craig would tell me that it was an opportunity to educate. Well I don’t know about you but I don’t want to think about having RA all the time. One of my best coping devices is to smile and fake it. I didn’t and don’t feel I have to justify my right to a parking space. Mainly because even to this day, if I tell people that I have RA, now instead of saying I look “too young,” they often say — it IS only in your hands, isn’t it? I’m tired and covering for some amount of pain (always) and just want to get in the store to get what I need without crying. I simply don’t have the energy or reserves to “educate” so I often give them the picture they need and limp into the store with a big frown on my face.
This has negative ramifications for me. They walk away and probably don’t give me another thought and I walk away with my illusion shattered. Yep, you are that “crippled” “deformed” woman with RA you were trying to pretend you weren’t — it is like getting ready in the morning and not really looking at yourself and suddenly focusing on your hands — it still shocks me to see them reflected back. They can’t be mine. Mine are capable hands that get the job done.
Craig says I am much more than a set of hands to him. He said that 20 years ago. (Talk about the ironies of life, now Craig’s hands are more problematic than mine. I can’t get into that today.) Bless his little heart. I seem to have left the comic strip story — we did the strip for a few years, until I left the Arthritis Center in 1987. Ice Mac Sea, our dear friend, said he would post a few of the strips for me if I can locate them. If you are interested, check back.
It is a beautiful day and time is passing by — I remain in the fight with a smile on my face — and best get moving.