“Use a knife.”

“No, use a towel!””

“No, just hit the edge of it against the bench top.”

My sister and I were fighting over who was going to open the sticky jam jar lid (deep into mothering mode – mothers can do anything, don’t you know?) and having a laugh. Well, we ended up having to give the jar to her 13 year old daughter to open and had a weak laugh about that, too.

My sister is 50 and I am 47 – this whole business seems a bit early to be contending with. But we both have arthritis, so it is what it is.

Needless to say, we also both had very sore hands the next day after our attempts at jam jar olympics – an ‘arthritis hangover’ is what I call it.

When I was first diagnosed, coming up a year ago, I gave up art and my hand therapist kindly suggested that I didn’t try to do it too soon or I “may be disappointed.” I have been afraid to try until quite recently, in fact, especially as I was having trouble writing.

I noticed a slight general improvement about six months ago (after the meds and exercises kicked in), however, and since then have been gently re-introducing myself to some of my hobbies – gardening, crafts and DIY amongst them. I relished being able to get back into it again but had to be strict about pacing myself. This was so frustrating at the beginning – I had to put an alarm clock on to make myself stop working!

I caught myself looking longingly at a metal polishing machine but the vibrations from those machines often make people without arthritis suffer from swelling in their hands, so I shudder to think what it would do to me.

I have really loved being able to get back into projects again (albeit revised versions) and to rediscover the very therapeutic activities they can be, especially in the summer months out in the garden with the cats. I have just bought a gutted caravan and I am looking forward to seeing what I can do there as well (while my sister keeps me company with a ready cup of tea). My attempt to sign write the caravan’s name will be my first foray back into painting, as such. Pacing myself has now become natural (no more alarm clocks!). It is also becoming natural to plan projects around arthritis – low maintenance, vertical gardening projects, for instance.

It is a real gift to be able to do these things, even if at times positive feelings are at war with frustration – it is easy to become angry with ourselves when we can’t do basic things like opening jars, lift heavy-ish items, get up without hobbling, use routine kitchen utensils or are constantly dropping things. But I make a point of enjoying and appreciating the things I can do, while accepting the rest. A sense of humour is invaluable, too. And I really do think a dry towel around the lid of a jar is the most effective (and safest) way to open it – but, then again, probably the 13 year old’s help is the best case scenario, in the end. We can then save our strength (and pride) for a more worthy occasion.

I have Osteoarthritis in my hands, feet and neck and my sister has Osteoarthritis and Scleroderma.

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