Tuesday, August 27, 2013

what will I be?

Because I haven't wanted to admit it to myself, I haven't really said anything about this before: Arthritis is hurting my hands and I can't knit much anymore.

If you don't knit (or crochet, or carve wooden decoys, or hand-quilt or something), this probably doesn't sound like such earth-shattering news.

I'm 38 years old. I was diagnosed with arthritis around the time I turned 30, but I think I've had it since adolescence. It's in all my joints, but it seems to concentrate on certain joints at certain times.

Since having Baby #2 just about a year ago, the arthritis has been concentrating on my hands. Some days the finger joints ache terribly and keep me awake at night. Some days they just feel tired, like your legs will after a long day of walking.

There's lots of good and bad advice out there about arthritis remedies. I've lived with this for a while now, so I've tried lots of things (other than the prescription drugs, in which I have no interest). Some work. Fish oil helps me a lot. Eating less dairy and sugar help a lot. Other things haven't helped me much.

Last winter I made myself a beautiful Lopi sweater that felt very much like a swan song. I knit it from beautiful, undyed, handspun yarn that I'd brought home from Vermont years ago and saved for a very special project. Though my hands ached and I could only knit one row some nights, I kept pushing through it, because I hardly ever make anything for myself, because I really really wanted to make this sweater, and because in the back of my mind I suspected this might be my final knitting project.

Since then I haven't quit entirely. I've made a couple of little baby gifts. Small things that don't take too long, even when you can only knit one or two rows at a time.

I hope that this is temporary. I hope that this is a period of the arthritis focusing on my hands, and that with enough fish oil and diet modification and targeted yoga the pain will mostly disappear from my hands, perhaps go torment some other joints and humble me in some new way I had not imagined.

In the mean time, I read. I devour books. I inhabit other worlds, where my hands fall away along with all my other disappointments and I am only consciousness - perhaps someone else's - and new stories constantly unfold. Thank God for books.

My Great Aunt Ruth was a voracious reader. My mother told me that Ruth was also an accomplished seamstress, and that she had the most beautiful handwriting, but by the time I knew her, Ruth's hands were curled into tight claws and her poor finger joints were swollen knobs that gave her no peace. She always sent birthday cards, and you never had to read the signature to know who had written such gnarled-looking letters.

I don't remember ever hearing her complain about what she could not do, though clearly she had had to give up many of the things that had once made her who she believed herself to be. I knew her as kind, insightful, gentle, meticulous and always elegant. She always wore a stylish blouse and a jaunty scarf or necklace, even for the most mundane weekday cups of tea with my grandmother.

I think about Aunt Ruth's hands a lot and wonder whether mine will someday be like hers, whether I will have to give up knitting and sewing, writing, drawing and planting tiny lettuce seeds in perfect rows in my garden. Or will I just leave my hands behind, the way I do when I'm engrossed in a really good novel, leave my whole body behind and be first and foremost a consciousness, a sentient being whose physical shortcomings (and physical abilities, for that matter) are no more relevant than the whine of a mosquito in one's ear?

For a long time I didn't say anything about this out loud, or even to myself much, because it was just too sad. Who am I, without the being able to make things?

But you know, we go through many metamorphoses in our lives. I have gone from child to adult, from unattached to lawfully wed, and from individual to Mother, whose own heart walks around outside her body in the shape of two growing little girls. I have gone from daughter-who-takes-her-incredible-father-for-granted, to woman-without-a-father. One day all these will change again. Some of these future lives I am terrified to contemplate. Some will bring more joy than I can imagine now. I'd always thought knitting would be at hand throughout. Perhaps not.

I will be here, I myself. You too, will be yourself still. That's all I really know for sure.

25 comments:

  1. So sorry to hear that your hands aren't cooperating with you. I hope you do get to feel better, soon.

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  2. I'm also sorry to hear about the arthritis. I hope it passes soon and you can get back to knitting.

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  3. What a profoundly beautiful post. I grieve with you, as I know well what it is to have pain prevent you from creating (who knew you could get tennis elbow from knitting?) And to have physical change slowly over decades. With me, it is gradual loss of hearing, as the cochlear nerve degenerates. I can no longer understand a whisper, or hear wind rustling leaves. But as you say, I will be here, and you, too. Soon, a friend's first grandchild will be born. And I plan to send the baby, a girl, a sweater made from one of your free Friday patterns - the super-natural stripe. So, in this way, your ability to create, to craft and to share, goes on. Thank you.

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    1. Joan, this really warms my heart (and kind of breaks it at the same time...!).

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  4. Just happened on your blog through Zite. I know of what you speak,because I am a knitter with rheumatoid arthritis. Many M.D.s have told me knitting actually helps my hands. I think you should reconsider seeing a rheumatologist and getting a diagnosis. You can research any suggested meds. Don't lose hope!
    Yoga and swimming are a great help.

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    1. Thank you Debra! Several other folks with R.A. have encouraged me to keep on knitting.

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  5. Caroline aka FiberTribeWed Aug 28, 10:16:00 AM

    Oh, girl. I am so sorry. I've been reading your blog since well before your first child was born. And have used your patterns for many gifts. I, too, have hands under siege. I have also found dietary changes like yours to help. And surprisingly, acupuncture does give me sometimes weeks of relief both of pain and swelling. I hope you find ease and healing. DNA can be wrestled to the ground. sometimes. hugs to you. And knitting or not, hope you'll keep blogging.

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    1. Caroline, thank you! I'm so sorry to hear that you have the same problem. But acupuncture...! Such a great idea. Hugs back to you too! I promise to keep blogging. : )

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  6. I, too have been enjoying your blog (and patterns) for a long time. Hopefully, the disease will ease up on your hands and move elsewhere at least sometimes. My MIL has the same issue, and finds that using one of those home spa wax warmers helps sometimes. (its a small heated tub that melts a wax to a gently temperature and you dip your hands (or feet) into it. The warmth stays quite a while, and you can peel the cooled wax back off.) Can you like to the details for that astonishingly lovely sweater?

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    1. Thank you, Karen! Here are the det's on that great Lopi sweater: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/keja

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  7. Dear f.pea ~ Are you familiar with Jeni Baker's "In Color Order" blog? She, too, suffers from arthritis and wrote a wonderfully helpful & candid post about a year ago. She's recently picked up knitting. Here's what she wrote:
    http://www.incolororder.com/2012/08/safe-sewing-crafting-with-arthritis.html
    All the best to you, Connie (fellow arthritic and creative kindred spirit)

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    1. Thank you so much Connie! I will check out Jeni's blog.

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  8. I hesitate to make health recommendations most of the time, but you did mention not using meds.
    I get relief from a diet of nonprocessed foods and I take ginger and turmeric...for pain and inflamation. Don't know if it would help you, but knowing how terrible this can be it might be worth a try.....if you don't have other problems that would preclude their use.

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  9. Ever since I read this post, I've been thinking of you. Today I wanted to come back and wish you well.
    Wooly hugs,
    Siga

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    1. Aw, thanks Siga! I appreciate the virtual hug.

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  10. This is quite remarkable that I happen to open a Knitting Blog for the first time in year, and read your post. I'm currently on EMB due to a RA flare-up and waiting for the meds to kick-in. My life as a 'knitter' has been put on hold once again, with my lonely uncompleted projects sitting in my baskets...Between episodes its the fast flinging of needles to finish and out smart this autoimmune mess. Take care of yourself gently...things do improve.

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    1. *sigh* You too... it WILL get better! It has to! Take good care.

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  11. It is not the end, but the beginning of something else.

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  12. Oh, my thoughts are with you. Not an easy time, and it's hard to adjust when things seem beyond your control.

    When my carpal tunnel syndrome acts up (so completely not the same, but still cuts down on knitting), I've found that I really enjoy audiobooks, esp. while going for a walk.

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  13. I just ran across your blog while looking for a sock pattern and started reading back through your posts. All I can say is *huggles*.

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  14. I personally think that arthritis has a fair amount of hereditary factors, my father has pretty strong joint issues on all fronts and my mom has always seemed to have knee and hip joint pain. I will be 30 this year and I have been battling joint pain that seems to concentrate in my hands too. Mine is not as strong and painful as how you describe yours but I feel that this is worth mentioning.

    I found it out really by accident. I think I had come down with something so I switched to mostly just hot tea to sooth my throat and sinuses. After a couple days my hands weren't hurting. So I did a little (and sort of painful) experiment. What I found is that dark colored sodas and sometimes coffee will give me bouts of joint pain. mostly in my thumbs and wrists. Coffee less than the soda but let me be more exact. When I consumed a 12oz DrP or Coke before the end of the day I would start to feel strong joint pain that lasted through the next 24-36hrs depending on if it was more than 12oz. If I took in more on that next day it would get stronger and continue on. If I stopped completely it would run its course and after 2-3 days I would have only minimal or no pain. With coffee I can have about 3 cups or about 24oz in a day before it starts to cause pain. So really I have about two mugs of coffee at most in a day and draw the line and do ok.

    I am not sure if its the caffeine or a combination of caffeine and sugar. Or maybe somewhat the ratio of that to how much water I take in. But, all I really know is that if I take in more than 12oz of dark soda in a day I start to have pain in my hands like you described. Which I am sure would only escalate if I continued to consume them.
    Maybe you don't drink either of these and this point is totally moot. But maybe you do and maybe this will at least help. When I tested it I went about 2 weeks without dark soda or coffee and was pain free. At this point I feel like I need a little bit of coffee and I do carry some minor pain in thumb joints. Maybe one day I can give it up completely. Hopefully before too much damage is done.

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