Wednesday, June 30, 2010


At times, I feel as though my RA shares similarities with the story Alice in Wonderland. Like Alice, I wake up and I wonder, have I been changed in the night? Was I the same when I got up this morning? Sometimes I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But, if I'm not the same, the next question is 'Who in the world am I?’ That is the great puzzle.

Some days, I wake up and feel that I used to be much more..."muchier." Those are the days that I feel as if I have lost my muchness. That I am Almost-Ashley. Not quite the Ashley that I once was. I feel that Almost-Ashley is falling down a rabbit hole, spiraling out of control, to find herself in a world she cannot explain. A world where nothing seems to make sense. A world where she is told to “eat this”, and “drink that”… only to be surprised with results and side effects that she did not expect. These are the days that Almost-Ashley, almost decides that living in this muddled world is impossible.

On these days, like Alice, I try to believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Count them. One, there is medicine that will relieve my swelling. Two, there is surgery to help my ailments. Three, I recover quickly. Four, symptoms can disappear. Five, there is a place for physical therapy. Six, I can slay the arthritis.

While my six things may not seem impossible to outsiders, peering through my looking glass, people that suffer from RA, or any other chronic condition understand that even such actions as walking, standing or sleeping can seem like impossible tasks. Everyone has their own monsters to slay. Their own symptoms and difficulties. Their own impossibilities. Because of this, every day, I try my hardest to wake up, and remember that things are only impossible if you believe they are impossible.
Every morning when I wake up, I make a conscious decision. I make the decision to either be Almost or Absolutely me. Some mornings the decision is easy, other mornings it is challenging. Some days I wake up and don’t even want to be me at all. No matter what, when I feel like it impossible to get out of bed, I do it. I was told at the onset of my RA it was impossible to competitively ride, one year ago I showed in the World Pinto Show, one of the highest levels of competition on that circuit. After surgery, I was told it was impossible to stand and walk unassisted earlier than the end of July. I was rising and walking by the beginning of June. Things are only impossible if you BELIEVE they are impossible. This is the attitude that separates Almost-Ashley from Absolutely-Ashley. Absolutely-Ashley never lets anyone, including herself, tell her anything is impossible. One step is all it takes to turn the impossible, possible. One step. One step is all it takes to reclaim your muchness.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Road to Recovery

So it has been a little over a month since I have given you a glimpse into my everyday life. These past few weeks I have been traveling down the road of recovery, and what a journey it has been.

It wasn't, and still is not an easy path. Having both knees taken out, and new ones cemented into a freshly formed and filed sockets. Having a total of 51 staples holding together two 10 inch incisions that would eventually heal into 10 inch scars. Having those same 51 staples ripped back out one at a time. Being asked the day after your surgery to not only start therapy, but to be expected to walk as well.

I walked. I walked a total of 15 steps that morning. Those may quite possibly have been the 15 most difficult steps I have ever been asked to take in my life. But that's something I don't let just anybody know. To most of the world those 15 steps were the best steps I have ever chosen to take. Those were my first 15 steps toward a new, and promising future. Both renditions of those few seconds on May 26th are correct. They were the most difficult, and liberating steps I had ever taken. As I collapsed back into my chair, I cried. I cried tears forged from pain and from relief. I was going to be able to do this, and from that moment on I knew it was only going to become easier.

Which it did. Within three days, with the help of a walker I was walking to and from therapy. Gradually, my dependence on the walker diminished as my strength and balance came back. Three weeks after my surgery date I was rising and walking unassisted, that is two months earlier than my surgeon and therapists predicted. I often get asked the question how. Attitude.

Attitude truly is everything. I was never a victim and therefore, never acted like one. I didn't feel sorry for myself and wasn't looking for pity. I wanted this. I needed this. I knew no matter how difficult it was, or what my pain level reached, I had lived through worse, and made it, just as would this time. I knew that those times that I had lived through before, I didn't have an answer. I knew I was in pain and every medication and treatment I had tried failed me. I also knew, my pain was getting worse. This time it was different. This time I was getting better, and every time something was difficult I knew it was going to get easier. Every time I pushed through for just a few more steps, or a couple extra reps, it wasn't going to be in vain. I was going to get through this and become stronger. I was going to be able to return to a life that wasn't wheelchair accessible only.

I know my journey is far from over and I still have miles to go. I understand that now that my knees are healing, that doesn't affect the pain or flares in other joints. I have learned that the surgery did not cure the illness or fatigue that plagues me. I realize that rheumatoid arthritis is a monster that I have to battle daily, but at least I am doing battle on two new titanium knees, that for now, seem quite up to the challenge.