By Henrietta Handy
I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis at the age of two-and-a-half years old. My first clear memory is being in excruciating pain on my parents leather couch and in tears with my Mom on her knees beside me in the floor. “Can you tell Mommy where it hurts, baby?” she was saying. I remember understanding her quite plainly but not having the ability to form the words to tell her where or how I was hurting. We both cried that day: me in physical agony and she in truest heartfelt agony because she could not help her baby daughter fight a monster that was inside her own body. At that moment I understood words were important, far more important than anyone could knew for me. Words meant true communication.
By the time I was three years old I was reading quite well and I was verbally communicating my wants and needs. It was no longer difficult to explain where I was hurting or how badly, although there were moments, days, when the pain brought me down to a shivering, quivering mass of pain where all I could do was just close my eyes and imagine myself somewhere else. This is when my Mom and sisters started telling me stories to help me escape and I started embellishing the stories to make them more exciting for all of us, because my pain wasn’t just my own – it was the entire family’s.
I think I was six years old when my sister Becky gave me my first diary. It was pink and had a lock on it with a small brass colored key. It was around this time when doctors, nurses, and my family would ask me how I was feeling or something and I would tell them how I was doing physically because this was what you learned to do in the hospitals: the children in the wards were patients, usually experiments back in the early 1960s, not really people. It took me a little while to relax to say how I was feeling emotionally, but it would rarely be to my Mommy and Daddy because I didn’t want to upset them further.
Becky explained I didn’t have to tell anyone how I was really feeling if I didn’t want to; I could just write it down in my diary/journal and when I was ready to tell someone I could do it then. Becky explained how some of the greatest writers in history had kept journals and how some of the greatest journals of all time had been some of the greatest writers. It was in those first books I wrote my first stories and poems and kept them all to myself and only showed her or one of my other sisters late at night or when it was just me and one of them. Later, the stories and poems took up their own notebooks and the journals became volumes of their own, the best friend that always listens and never judges.
To this day I have a paper journal I write in nearly every day, and a blog online where I share with the world some little tidbit here and there, and the stories and poems I am always sending somewhere. Through it all, my journal is my best friend who always listens and never judges; who shares the triumphs and failures, who helps me plots, and keeps all of those endless lists with items marked off and cards and smiley faces and pictures from an artistic hand that truly isn’t artistic. I would be truly lost without him, no matter what incarnation he may happen to take at the time.
Henrietta lives in Lexington, KY with her husband of 16 years, Carlos, two dogs, and the one who keeps them all straight: the cat. She has been writing since the age of six and is still looking for that illusive book contract, but still enjoying telling wonderful stories and journaling every single day in her private journal as well as blogging. You can check out her knitting blog now. Henrietta is an avid reader and says she finds inspiration for many of her blog posts as well as her journaling entries by just living and letting her journal continue to be her best friend and confidant.