Friday, January 20, 2012

A New Year

It’s 2012. Wow. Where did the time go? It’s been quite some time since I posted. The number one rule of successful blogging is, “Do it regularly”. Well, actually, it’s “Write Well.” Then make sure you do it regularly. Because I worry so much about the first rule of writing well, I fail to follow the second rule. That being said, it’s a new year and like most people, I have set some goals for myself, live more mindfully, lose weight and write more often. The question is, what to write?

I have been living by the Serenity Prayer a lot lately.  God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

I have always been very self-conscious of my hands. I can’t even remember when they began to change, but when I was diagnosed with JRA at 8, they were straight. By the time I was 12, my wrists had drifted (ulnar deviation, they call it) and were fixed sideways at a 90-degree angle. I know this from pictures. I don’t remember it happening. But I remember the boys in eighth grade, sitting at the end of the lunch table, mocking my hands and me as I raised the fork to my mouth. I stopped eating lunch for a few weeks. I wasn’t allowed to change tables.

By high school, the fingers had joined in on the fun, with the tendons growing weaker, the joints began to slip, and my hands began to look gnarled and old. Again, I know this from pictures more than I remember it happening—which is not to say I didn’t know they looked different. I just didn’t notice how significant the progression was.

The problem is, unlike scars, unlike pain, you can’t hide your hands. Especially if you are an animated talker, as I am. I’ve tried, especially on first dates or in job interviews. In fact, in my 20s, I began to make plans to “have them fixed” one day. And, like so many other people, I lived with the “If/Then” fantasy. If my hands were fixed, I would be more attractive, people wouldn’t stare, I wouldn’t be so self-conscious. It’s funny how we tie our hopes to that far off “If/Then,” hanging in limbo; waiting for the “Then” to come.

Well, to quote John Lennon, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” So while I planned on having the hands “fixed” one day, I went on with life. Until a month ago. Due to circulation issues, I was sent to my hand surgeon. As we discussed treatments for the latest addition to my laundry list of “secondary conditions,” I asked about my fingers.

“So, since you are already going to be in there,” I asked (“in there” being opening up my hand to work on some arteries), “could you just replace or reset my index finger since I haven’t been able to straighten it since the tendon disintegrated back in ’99.”

At that point he informed me that he would never electively work on my fingers. “We would be asking for a world of trouble,” he said. Apparently, my inability to heal (thank you, steroids) and my compromised circulation would make an attempt at replacement/realignment a VERY bad idea.

Suddenly, my “If/Then” fantasy was shattered. There would never be a day that I would have long, straight, piano player fingers, hands that would make me more attractive, hands that didn’t evoke curios stares and make me self-conscious. Yet, I go on with life, again often forgetting my hands and their unusual shape.

And that’s okay. Even when someone reminds me, as they sometimes do. This week I went to the clinic for a treatment and the infusion nurse was one whom I have known for at least a decade. We were talking about how long it’s been since I’ve been on a biologic (a story for another day), at least seven years now. And she casually remarked, “Well yes, I can see a lot more deformity in your hands.” “Really?” I thought. For just a moment I was taken back, wounded by the comment, unaware that my hands looked any different than they had a few years ago. It’s a little like gaining weight. You don’t realize it happens until one day you catch a view in a store window and wonder whose big ass is wearing your jeans.

It was almost a split-second decision, but it was a conscious one. There was my Ego, feeling wounded, wanting to jump in and dwell on how ugly and deformed my hands were becoming. Then, there was something deeper that just said, “Huh, Okay. They’ve gotten worse. They still work (for the most part) and there’s nothing you can do to change them. This is you.” It was a very surreal moment and I chuckled to myself, thinking about all the turmoil I had just avoided by choosing how I took her innocent comment.

I realized, at that moment, that I have accepted that I cannot change the physical appearance of my hands, but I can change the way I think about them…and have found the wisdom to know the difference.  

At least for today…

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