Shifting gears

2020 didn’t hit my family as hard as it could have, and for that I am tremendously grateful. We had our share of bumps and bruises, but overall we didn’t have to worry about keeping a roof over our head or food on the table.

Of the three of us, our son has probably navigated the changes with the most grace. Virtual learning, or as we called it, “practice for college,” suits him for the most part. He appreciated the asynchronous classes, setting goals and deadlines and getting things done.

His classmates with older siblings – the ones who knew what high school used to be like- grieved what they were missing. But our freshman had no expectations. Rolling with the punches wasn’t easy, but he adapted. FaceTimed. Texted. Played online games.

Shifting gears wasn’t ideal, but he has never been one to waste time wondering what could have been when there’s so much to explore now.

As far as my husband’s work goes, it was fairly smooth sailing on that front, too. My husband’s boss is overseas, so working remotely wasn’t ever a question for his team. He made one trip in to the office to pick up some necessities and transitioned comfortably into working from home.

Even our dog seemed to embrace the tidal wave of change that swept over our home. More hands in the house meant more belly rubs and warm cuddles. His weekday world grew.

But me? Well, that’s a different story.

I tried to sail smoothly. Everything about my beloved routine came to a screeching halt. Daily visits to the gym were done. Housecleaning without an audience was history. My kitchen table, which was once my peaceful, solitary writing space, became the hub of household activity.

I tried new things. I baked, sketched, did Zoom workouts, learned to knit, walked or biked the neighborhood. I ached to see family and friends, like everybody else.

When August came around, I was tired. Not covid-fatigued. Not anxious or depressed. Tired. My hands and wrists were stiff and achy. My knees and ankles popped going up stairs. I chalked it all up as a less-than-glamorous side effect of getting older, or maybe just a rough year.

I found a new workout on YouTube and added it to my daily routine. It felt great to move and get stronger, and I thought maybe a new type of workout would help me feel less tired. After a couple of weeks, I noticed my joints ached afterward, not my muscles. Maybe I need new shoes. Or I’m just not as conditioned as I was. You know, getting older.

In October, I started knitting blankets for my family for Christmas. On the first blanket, I turned on “A New Hope” and knitted away to Luke and Leia’s adventures, and was finished by the time the Death Star exploded. Blanket number two took me from “Empire Strikes Back” through “Return of the Jedi.” By blanket number three, I had to rest between each row. (I’m still not finished with blanket number four.)

My hands aching, especially after a lot of activity, wasn’t a new thing. But aching first thing in the morning? Red, swollen knuckles? That was new. So I made an appointment with my doc.

I honestly thought she would tease me about getting old and tell me to take ibuprofen and a hot bath. But she didn’t. A few blood tests, a flu shot, and two weeks later, and I was headed to a rheumatologist. “It’s probably a false positive, but just in case,” doc said.

In the meantime, whatever it was lurking in my body grew increasingly hostile. By Thanksgiving, every joint in my body hurt and my hands and feet would go ice cold at random times. All I wanted to do was sleep.

Sleep wasn’t easy to come by, though. My bones were sensitive. It sounds weird, but the weight of the sheets was unbearable. Then came the tiny, stabby, prickly feeling crawling across my calves, ankles, elbows, and wrists.

Some days, the pain would subside late in the morning and for a blissful couple of hours I felt okay. Creaky, but capable. This tiny shred of normalcy got into my brain and tormented me. See? You’re imagining all this. You’re fine. Quit being a baby and go empty the dishwasher already.

Other days, my big bear of a son would sneak up and hug me. Two thoughts flashed through my head at once: oh I love him so much and hey is that my spine ripping from my body right now? I tried to hide my pain from my son but I know he saw it, and I don’t know who felt worse. No kid wants to hurt his mom, and no mom ever wants to turn down a hug from her son.

My first visit with the rheumatologist was a week and a half ago. I’ll spare you the details for now, but I left with two things. The first was a prescription for steroids to reduce pain and inflammation. The second was knowledge that there are two likely culprits for what I’ve been going through these past several weeks (months?). Dealing with either will require some changes. Both are autoimmune diseases.

If you’d asked me a year ago whether I thought a) a global pandemic was possible in 2020 or b) I’d be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in the middle of it, first I probably would have laughed. But I’d like to think my answer would be the same.

I will go down whatever path God puts me on, because I know He is good.

My book projects aren’t gone forever, they’re just paused for the moment. I think maybe instead of writing for kids I need to write for people like me, who find themselves someplace they didn’t expect to be.

Maybe you’re not facing a new diagnosis, but you are facing a new year without a job. Or spending the holidays without a loved one for the first time. Or maybe you are recovering from an illness, or just exhausted from the rollercoaster this year has been. Everything has shifted, and it feels like you’re at the bottom of the mountain looking up.

None of our circumstances are a surprise to God. How we’re feeling right now? That’s not shocking to Him either.

Even with prickly feet, I rest easier in that knowledge. Whatever I learn, feel, or experience in the days and months ahead, I know without a doubt that it’s all going to be okay.

Published by Kell McKinney

I write middle grade and picture book stories. Member of SCBWI. Former marketing manager for a company people love to hate.

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