By Joanna Mechlinski

Most people I know spent December in a frazzle, engrossed by various holiday-centric issues. The people with chronic illness or pain had additional concerns, as of course stress is the major thing that exacerbates their symptoms. That, in turn, leads many to feeling guilty, as they feel like they’re disappointing their family and friends if they aren’t able to participate in all the holiday magic.

Joanna Mechlinski

But as for me, the month of December only brings a feeling of hope. The weeks until the holidays pass quickly, taking us to January of a brand new year. 

The way I see it, the fresh page of a new calendar is truly symbolic of the promise that lays ahead. While it’s true that all calendar systems are just manmade ways of keeping track of time, it’s also true that the concept of a “new” year fills many of us with hope.  As poet Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul.” What better way to describe that niggling sensation that refuses to extinguish fully, no matter who you are or what your life’s circumstances? January is the month that leads to another 365 days of fresh opportunities where literally anything might happen.

Likewise, no matter how long you’ve been living with chronic pain, admit it – there is still a tiny part of you that refuses to stop hoping. Maybe this will be the year that science unveils some new medication that will dramatically increase your quality of life. Maybe, even, you might simply go into an inexplicable spontaneous remission – we’ve all seen those kinds of stories in the news from time to time, right? Why can’t it be us one day?

At this point in my life, I’ve largely come to terms with the reality of my life. I was diagnosed with lupus and polymyositis, a rare muscle disorder, at 22, picking up additional diagnoses of rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia along the way in the 16 years since. I’ve done my share of sobbing and screaming, both literally and metaphorically. I mourn the things I am no longer able to do and the things that I’ve had to learn how to alter. But although the practical, intellectual part of me often chides me for any optimism – after all, how many different doctors, hospitals, medications and alternative treatments have I already been through over the years, each time mentally going up the metaphorical roller coaster, only to get slammed back down when whatever new thing invariably failed? – I find hope has taken up permanent residence inside my soul. Who’s to say that 2019 can’t be the year that my life changes dramatically for the better? The belief in the possibility of a better tomorrow may sometimes be better for us than anything else.

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