We All Need Gathering Places

Arthritis Introspective 9th Annual Gathering: #GrowTogether16

Nashville, Tennessee

May, 2016

Dear Journal,

I’m spending the weekend with a lot of really special people. We’ll drink alcohol, many of us. And take lots of drugs combined. Lots and lots of drugs.

Drugs we wish we didn’t have to take. Did you think this was Burning Man?

No. We’re all sick. We all have some form of arthritis, and many of us brought loved ones with us. We came to have fun – not despite – because we have arthritis.

We didn’t come here to complain. We came to share experiences and be reminded that we aren’t alone. We are a family. We know exactly what it means to survive, and we are determined to be whole humans in the process.

Many of us suffer from multiple chronic conditions because of and/or in addition to our arthritis: depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory conditions, high blood pressure, etc.

And the drugs. Oh the drugs. Did I mention the drugs? Biologics. Corticosteroids. Chemotherapy. Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories. Analgesics (oral and topical), Disease Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs, eye steroids (did you know there are steroids for eyes?). Sleep medication. Anxiety medication. Depression medication. Blood pressure medication. Insulin. Medical Marijuana. Etc. Etc. Etc.

We didn’t come here to be sad. We came here as sisters and brothers who know what it means to fight every day. To hurt every day. To struggle against our own bodies every day. No, we didn’t come to be sad. We came to be proud of who we are. We came to talk about our shared struggles and what we do to overcome those struggles daily. We came to say, “Yes, we can,” not, “I give up.”

While it’s not our first agenda, we also came here to speak Arthritis, because it’s our language and we’re experts. Here, our broken bodies are the dominant norm, and this little Utopian environment feeds our conversations in a powerful way. We are empowered simply because, here, we know we are seen as human first.

We have pain. Many of us have malformed joints. You name the joint, someone here has a picture of it on X-ray. Up yours, arthritis! We use braces, splints, gloves, canes, walkers, wheelchairs. Some of us don’t use any of these things. Many of us have suffered from stunted growth. Many of us haven’t. Some of us look sick. Some of us look healthy. This is arthritis, don’t you see? Maybe not. Not all the time. It’s not always easy to see.

We all need a gathering place.

We didn’t come here to cry, although some of us undoubtedly will. We came here to find friendships that transcend our diseases with the (re)assurance that our arthritis isn’t something we have to hide or hide from. Here, we simultaneously put our diseases at the forefront and at the back of our minds – doublethink, as Orwell penned it.

We came to share openly with people who just get ‘it,’ but we also came to dig deeper than our medical charts to who we are aside from our diagnoses. We need this gathering place to retain our identities within our broken bodies.

Here, our diseases are seen as an extension of our beings, not our defining identity. Our diseases are only doorways into the relationships we are nurturing. Problems aren’t problems, but rather reasons to connect, share, and grow together.

Our ordinarily stigmatized diagnoses of Arthritis are ironically what make this gathering a normal affair – at this place, our bodies are the norm.

Here, we are not judged or questioned for the diseases that strive to define our lives. We are welcomed and embraced for being the beautiful humans we are.

We came here to have fun, make memories, learn, and be empowered. We came to find a home among family, and to be ourselves.

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