I am blessed to be part of an amazing online support group for women with Rheumatoid Arthritis. We have adopted as our symbol, the beautiful dragonfly. Dragonflies look to be very fragile, but they have 20 times as much power in each of their wing strokes when compared to other insects. They have the ability to move in all six different directions and can fly up to 45 miles per hour. Their eyes are impressive as they can see in all 360 degrees around themselves. Dragonflies live most of their lives in the nymph stage and only fly for a few months in their adult stage. Their short life reminds us to live in the moment and live life to its fullest with what we have.
The symbolism of the dragonfly is inspiring to our support group. Dragonflies symbolize change and change in the perspective of self-realization, especially understanding the deeper meaning of life. The dragonfly’s scurrying flight across water represents an act of going beyond what is on the surface and looking into the deeper implications and aspects of life. Dragonflies exhibit iridescence on both their wings and bodies. The magical property of iridescence is also associated with the discovery of one’s own abilities by taking off the masks we wear and removing the doubts one casts on his/her own sense of worth. They also remind us to be aware of and grateful for our inner and outer beauty.
The women in my RA support group are the strongest women I know. Some of them (myself included) may look fragile, but we are powerful when it comes to living with chronic pain and fatigue and stress. Some days the pain knocks us down, but then we get up again the next day and do what needs to be done. We juggle family, work, schooling, along with our disease management. We face the change that comes with an auto-immune diagnosis: change in our bodies; change in what we can and cannot do; and change in our priorities. We reach out and support one another through the tough times and the triumphs. I consider them all to be my sisters!
Over the past weekend, we attended our national Arthritis Introspective conference for people with all forms of auto-immune diseases. It is the one time of year that we get to be face-to-face with each other. I cannot tell you how thrilling it is to hug these sisters of mine and laugh and cry with them in person. We feel ‘normal’ when we are all together. I can say only a few words about my daily experiences with Rheumatoid Arthritis and they all GET IT!! They KNOW what 98% of the other people I encounter in my life DO NOT know about living with these diseases. We can relax and know that we are accepted and honored by each other.
As a kid growing up with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA), I did not know anyone my own age who battled this awful disease. I always felt so alone in dealing with it. I was diagnosed with JRA at only 18 months old. It is all that I have ever known. My childhood experience was different than the experiences of my classmates. Having a chronic illness forced me to face things that other children don’t have to deal with. One thing I am deeply grateful for is that I had caring classmates from kindergarten through 8th grade. They never made fun of me or treated me as an outcast. I appreciate the gift that they gave me with that acceptance.
I did not meet anyone my own age with JRA until I was 26 yrs old. I was so excited because suddenly I was not alone in this battle. I wanted to hold tight to this girl and ask a million questions about her experience with JRA. There was such power in that connection. And as I met other folks with JRA, it was like this hole in me was starting to be filled for the first time in my life.
I know that all of my brothers and sisters, who live the journey with these auto-immune diseases, have their own stories. We are all powerful when we come together to share our stories.
Let us all remember the small but mighty dragonfly who teaches us to grow with the change in our lives and to live life to the fullest, no matter what is thrown our way.