Monthly Archives: September 2013

Exam Panic

Long time no see! I recently began my last year of college (yikes!) and my professors have been keeping me pretty busy. I’m using this semester to focus on my writing, so one of the classes I’m taking is called “Writing & the Blogosphere.” I’m learning more about blogging than I ever thought there was to know. We’re required to keep a blog for the class, but sadly I can’t use any of the ones I already have. I had to create a new one, but I’m still focusing on the topic of RA. Unlike this blog, however, I’m trying to reach out to those who don’t have the disease in an attempt to spread awareness (if you’re interested in reading it, click here). Last Thursday one of my posts was workshopped in class. I received some wonderful comments and a lot of support from my classmates, and I’m truly touched that they care so much. Below is the entry that I wrote. If you want to read the responses from my classmates, click the link above. Let me know what you think!

 

Exams are a necessary evil for students. We all need to take them, and we know to expect them. How we handle them varies from person to person. Some will choose not to study and won’t sweat the material. Others will study vigorously until they feel confident in the material. Then there’s a select few that fall into the “let’s panic about everything” category. I include myself in the panic category, but for different reasons than most people think. For me it has become so much more than just studying and passing a test.

The panic starts the second an exam is announced, with my inner monologue sounding something like this:

Is it going to be multiple choice? I hope it is. Please tell me it is. Oh God, what if we have to write an essay? Shit, what if the entire exam is an essay? Or multiple essays? Oh no, the Blue Books! She said Blue Books! I’m screwed. What if the weather is bad that day and I wind up flaring? Maybe I’ll get lucky and it’ll snow ten feet and Rutgers will deem it necessary to close the campus…

Since being diagnosed, exams have become more of an endurance test for me than anything else. First, there’s the studying part. Chronic pain lessens my ability to focus. I once forgot how to spell my name during an exam, which was a pretty low moment for me. Even while studying, there are moments when my mind wanders to the sharp pain in my wrist, or my stiff neck, or the fact that I can’t breathe because my immune system decided to attack my lungs right at that moment.

Then there’s the night before the test, and try as I might to be asleep by 11pm, my immune system says, “Nope, time to toss and turn and be uncomfortable until 2 am.” So then I start cursing at it, and shift around so much that the dog gets annoyed with me and goes in search of a more peaceful bed.

On the day of the test I’m cranky and exhausted. But the bigger problem is the fact that it’s raining outside and my fingers keep locking up as a result. I can’t give you a scientific reason as to why this happens (people tell me it’s about barometric pressure) but rain heightens the pain. So now I need to start praying that my special pen designed for clumsy arthritic hands won’t run out of ink because I’d never be able to write with a regular pen on a rainy day. Some days I get lucky and I can use a regular pen, but only for a short while.

And finally, I get to the test. It’s a test that requires three hours of constant writing. So I’m hunched over the paper, kink in my neck, hips locking up because I don’t have the opportunity to get up and move around. More wandering thoughts.

I do feel sorry for myself sometimes. It happens to all of us. Then I realize that it could be a lot worse, that I should suck it up and be grateful that I’m in school in the first place. Besides, it’s a much more rewarding feeling when that exam comes back with a good grade, because I know how much blood, sweat and tears literally went into it.

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My Hair and Me

Here’s one example of how we take things for granted sometimes. When I first got diagnosed, the last thing I thought RA would affect would be my ability to take care of my hair. I mean, it’s not that difficult when you think about it: you wash it, brush it, maybe use some hairspray. It’s really not hard.

I’ve always had an interesting relationship with my hair. When I was a  Freshman in high school, I decided I was bored with my current hair style and wanted to be more daring. On a whim I cut my extremely thick, shoulder-length hair into a very short pixie. It was different, it was easy to manage, and I loved it. I kept it for the next 5 years.

Me at age 16. 2007.

Me at age 16. 2007.

Then I hit my 20s, and I realized I needed a change again. So I decided to grow my hair out. It was a pain, and it involved a lot of patience, headbands, and bobby pins, but I did it and I really loved having long hair again. The options were endless. Bun? Ponytail? Curly or straight? I could now do whatever I wanted.

But then a new problem arose. My new long and thick hair knotted quite easily. I didn’t have the strength in my arms to brush out the knots. Sometimes I couldn’t even lift my arms up above my head. That meant asking my mother to brush my hair for me every night after I showered. But then I needed to make sure that it didn’t knot again in my sleep, which meant asking my sister to braid it (when Mom and I tried, our braids were an awkward mess because of our lack of dexterity).

I was beginning to get really frustrated. I had waited two years to grow my hair out again. I was supposed to be able to use hair dryers and flat irons (nope, too heavy, at least sometimes) without issue.

I realized I had a battle on my hands: my hair versus my freedom/dignity. Maybe that sounds really dramatic, but bear with me here. For many women, hair is a symbol of beauty and confidence. And here I was, with little confidence in my ability to take care of the messy mop on my head. Which in turn toyed with my self esteem. In my head, I didn’t feel beautiful anymore because I couldn’t even do the simplest of tasks. The hair had to go, but not without one last picture:

The day of the cut.

The day of the cut.

The trip to the hair salon was a bit somber. Mom came with me, and when we pulled up to the building I seriously thought about calling it off and going home. But I knew I had to do it. I had picked out a really cool cut, so at least I had something to look forward to.

And so they chopped it all off. I was back to pixie short. While I miss the length, now I had something I could manage on my own. Plus, I wasn’t getting stiff necks anymore from all of the extra weight on my head. The only bummer was that I wished I had cut it because I really wanted to, not because of necessity. But no matter. Things were gonna be okay.

I didn’t snap a photo of that haircut, but I did take one of the cut I got this past Saturday:

20130901130542487

The after shot.

Clearly, I went shorter this time. I mean, my head is shaved except for the top. This does require a tad more maintenance than a pixie, but it’s still so much easier than long hair. I don’t even need a brush anymore! I just slap in a little gel and some hairspray and done. The great part about this cut was that I chose to go this short. This was for style, not necessity. I think it suits me, no?


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