G’day I’m Bruce I work in the engineering sector and I’m also known as hottriggeredkiwi. A clue to my history is that I grew up on a dairy farm near a tiny town in rural Waikato.
I was diagnosed with sero-negative ankylosing spondilitis back in the late 80’s, and have since had further health issues with more arthritis with associated complications.
My day generally starts in the dark and finishes long into the night. I try to just enjoy life and get the most out of each day, spending time with my lovely wife and indulging my passion for photography - mostly of cloud formations, seascapes and landscapes.
The holidays began with the usual arthritic family in tow – you know, Mr and Mrs Pain and Suffering. Because they live together, they ignore each other, and I’m pleased to report they’re muted – no whinging and whining in this camp.
Then there’s the stiffness group, but they’re in the corner where no one listens to them. I’ve found life is so much better when they’re treated as merely a background annoyance. It’s best to just get on with life and let any stiffness resolve itself once the movement gets up and running, kind of like a classic rock track.
At the beginning of summer, because I love the season so much, I kicked the reinforcing rods that mark the corner of the garden and ease the hose around without catching sharp corners. I broke three toes. No one knew and because I could still get the offending foot into work boots, we carried on. Kicked them a few more times during the break, just to show how easy it was to do, but saltwater therapy worked a treat.
This is the way it goes: You get up at 0408hrs each morning and get out the door to somewhere by the shore – doesn’t matter, just anywhere – and wade out. You’ll need traditional aids like a tripod as a steady. This is because mud is stickier in summer, and the tripod doubles as a walking stick when the tidal current starts to pull (or river current if you want a pleasant variation on the same therapy). Of course, a camera to go on said tripod has to be balanced in the other hand.
Wading out in bare feet has its challenges. By walking over shellfish beds, you’ll get the obligatory cuts and this toe and foot massage isn’t really too much fun. It does keep you awake however until the sun rears its face over the horizon, making all the effort and pain so worthwhile.
Even when not wading through it, saltwater therapy is a joy when you can sit on the jetty above the tide, watching the sun set behind the hills. In the silence of nature you can hear fish splashing on re-entry, spoonbills calling or herons croaking. If you’re truly at peace with this silence, you can even hear the deepest bass of the bitterns’ boom across the saltmarsh.
This is therapy worthy of the daily battle. It doesn’t matter which end of the day you take the treatment – true bliss occurs at these points. Where it happens doesn’t matter either. On a jetty, on a remote boat-ramp or even under a flax bush or tree, allowing yourself to become one with the silence of nature. Somehow it works.
Of course, to be effective, saltwater therapy needs to be repeated and ongoing – and that’s just fine with me.
Just when you think you’re just keeping it together, an artist crosses over. Last time it was David Bowie, and I had to sneak time in a quiet spot at work to process that event – a majorly tough day. This time, thankfully, it happened on a Sunday, New Zealand time. Malcolm Young has gone, founding member of AC/DC, rock, rhythm, rift genius and writer through a generation of music. He was an inspiration to those who love music, and equally an inspiration to those who appreciate music as an art-from and as a relaxing escape.
One of the coping mechanisms I have for dealing with my arthritis (other than my wife) is to dissolve into the nearest riverbank grasses, or walk on the wildest lonely coasts, knowing full well it’s going to hurt later. I push myself to the edge; to go where no photographer has been before; to gain unique images, wherever my tripod can go onto virgin territory, whether it’s on dry land, rock or sand, or offshore in salt or fresh water.
I drive myself to walk on, through, over, or under anything to gain access to a unique angle – whether it be for hours across farms, long-grassed riverbanks, sandy and muddy shores to bush – or to negotiate twisted coastal pōhutukawa branches over water. Usually, it’s a combination of all the above. I always pay the price days later with swollen, painful lower joints from the walking and a sore upper body from carrying a multi-kilo combination of camera and tripod.
All this effort is to create an image in a frame that’s completed with minor processing once I get home. This work is usually accompanied by background music from legends whom I admire and have grown to love over the decades. Usually, the music is from the 70s or 80s when every band had their own unique sound, discernible within the first bar.
Another way of coping is through burying myself in work, doing silly hours plus overtime, taking on all possible projects, and surviving on three to six hours sleep a night. Although not usually recommended for one with this set of medical issues, for a driven person in the production engineering trade, it has kind of worked thus far, even to surviving professionally (mostly).
The end result is the reward, the achievement of a designed image, or an uncommon sight on film – something truly unique – and the satisfaction of being the only one to have seen these events or occurrences until the images are published and shared. It makes the pain worth the result, because even though the pain is always present, there’s the bonus of creating something for others less active or able in the process. I am always aware that there is someone facing a tougher battle than mine. If my photography raises a memory or a smile for them, that too has to be a good result.
Caption: This image is from a walk along the coast, taken while clambering under/over/through the long pōhutukawa branches that are just above the high tide mark. I like the rough bark texture, and twisted limbs from untold years weathering storms, yet they remain strong and flexible. Every year the flowers come with the heat of summer and bring colour to the coast.
As someone with arthritis, I find it a tough ask to deal with my ‘self’, especially as this self is in constant denial about medical conditions. This self needs to be the tough one in the family, to be able to know where to go, how to do stuff, on call and ready to go anywhere at any time. They need to fix stuff, be there to support the supporter, and pick up the pieces as required. I’m fine with all that. The need to keep going and get everything done is vital for sanity and there’s no-one else to draw on, except at work for work stuff.
The support role for a driven person with an introverted personality is equally tough.
It’s about being the anchor, being grounded enough to know where to draw the line, even for such a driven person as myself. Even when she knows I will go quietly out the back door and spend a few hours digging, doing ground prep in the garden, chopping firewood, or just helping the landlord in the orchard.
The anchor has to be yet firmer at times, especially when it’s raining or windy and this person has come back to our hut after being down the coast or down on or in the river. Then she’ll have to issue painkillers which are the price to pay for carrying kilos of camera gear for kilometres…because she loves me.
My wife goes with me to the doctor to explain what actually goes on in our hut because although this person can shut down in his head, the pain still exists, so she’s there to say where, when and how often this occurs.
The pharmacist’s hat comes out when she issues meds, as and when required. Even when this person says he doesn’t need them, she knows he does and he’s all the better for taking them.
My encouragement unit is there in the background, and even without saying anything, I know she is always on tap if required. Without being told, she knows when the bad days happen.
Work is rarely the issue. It’s those spring, summer, autumn days that are the worst, when the barometer goes up or down within hours, and the hygrometer elevates. This person instantly feels it, so then she dons her comfort cap.
For those days when inflammation takes a greater hold and time critical duties have to be done inside and outside the hut regardless of weather or level of suffering, she issues tea, tabs, telling off and tears as required. Beautifully timed hugs and attention are tendered and tended.
The motivational supporter comes out on days when a road-trip occurs, especially if the weather’s been rubbish for a while. Chores and duties remain on the shelf as the picnic stuff goes into the car and off we go, to places new or old, with camera gear and boots at the ready.
One thing with having her around, I’ve had to learn to communicate better (still a long way to go). Hat’s off to her who knows best, who has been with me through better and worse times, and does her best no matter what, even though she suffers as well. Between us, we muddle on and through; it’s just us two, and that’s fine.