Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Living Young With Arthritis- A Celebration Of Strength

I'm a young woman living with arthritis. If you were to ask me to sum arthritis up in one word I would say- strength. Not pain, not fatigue but strength. Today is World Arthritis Day and so I've decided to make this post a celebration of strength. Physically speaking, strong is the last thing I feel. At times it hurts to open jars, doors and hold a hair brush. It hurts to walk, drive, hang washing out to dry- all the things that I used to take for granted are now a miserable mission some days. When I was diagnosed with arthritis a little over three years ago, I had little knowledge of the strength that is required to live with such a disease, both mentally and emotionally.


When I first heard the words "I think you have arthritis" I couldn't comprehend how arthritis could suddenly cripple a perfectly healthy and happy eighteen going on nineteen year old who had her whole life ahead of her. I couldn't believe it. I didn't believe it. In fact, I laughed. 'Who does this doctor think they are, telling me I have arthritis?'. I knew that arthritis could affect people of any age but it wasn't something that I thought would affect me, it was something I was expecting to grapple with in old age. One of the most common misconceptions about arthritis is exactly that- it is something which a middle aged or older person contends with but unfortunately, that is not the case. Arthritis is not just an old persons disease, it affects young people and children too- and I'm one of the many young adults afflicted. As much as I didn't want it to be true, as I hobbled out of the doctor's office in immense pain from having my joints jerked this way and that; his words echoed. "Your arthritis isn't from wear and tear, it originates from an inflammatory source and you need treatment".... I knew that I was facing a monster which required fierce strength.

When people hear the word "arthritis" mentioned, I can bet you that the average healthy person would immediately associate it with just a few aching joints but there are over two hundred different types of arthritis and related musculoskeletal conditions all having different symptoms and varying degrees to which it affects a sufferers life. I am blessed to only have a very mild form of rheumatoid arthritis, showing early signs, but unfortunately the arthritis is the cause for my daily struggle with fibromyalgia (a chronic pain syndrome) which means that my life is severely hindered by a daily fight against aches and fatigue. I am not just fighting sore joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is so much more than just aching and stiff joints, it's not just plain ole arthritis- it is a disease. It is classified as an auto-immune disease, which means my body is attacking itself. If only I had a dollar for every time someone responded "oh my grandma has arthritis too!". Sometimes I have to force back the burning desire to scream "my arthritis isn't the same as your grandma's! I'm not old!"

In an E-Book by Lisa Copen- Chronic Illness Tips: 263 Ways to do More Than Just Get By, Sammy shares " I just wish my friends and family could live one day with my illness. I wouldn't wish it upon anyone, but I do wish that they could have the pain and experience for even 24 hours so they would have an understanding of how hard it is and how much I fight to keep a positive attitude. I'm 26 and have finally finished college. I wanted a career, but there are days I can't get out of bed. While my friends have their careers or are starting families, because of this stupid disease I am starting over again. And I'm wondering if anyone will ever marry me? Will I even be able to have kids? And, if I do, will I be able to take care of them? Everything is so out of my control." This is a perfect example of how I feel at times. I'm 22, I've had to give up studying early childhood- the career of my dreams, my job and my social life has severely suffered all because of a stupid illness. Most of my friends are finishing university, looking forward to careers, getting married and starting a family. I just feel that my life has been halted to a stop, I feel like my life is going no where. I try to be strong but really I'm scared about my future.... I desire to get married and start a family but who wants to marry chronic pain? How the heck will I cope looking after children when I struggle to get out of bed and make breakfast some mornings!

It takes immense strength to live young with arthritis and we don't always give ourselves enough credit, I know I don't. I've had so many people say "you are so strong" and I just palm it off- well I don't have a choice in the matter, it was forced upon me and as true as that is, some people would be a crumbled mess if they walked in my shoes. It takes someone special to deal with chronic pain, it takes someone courageous to reach out and minister to the hurting. We need to recognise this more often and celebrate it.

"Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars."- Kahlil Gibran

It takes strength to believe that somehow everything is going to be a-okay, it takes strength not to let a disease define your life and who you are as an individual. It takes strength to have a positive attitude. It takes strength to get out of bed in the morning when you're stiff, sore and overwhelmed by fatigue. It takes strength to say " this disease may have defeated me today, but I will try again tomorrow". It takes strength to smile when everything hurts, strength to endure horrible medication side effects- strength to take that weekly chemo drug dose when you would rather not spend a whole day feeling as throw you wanted to throw up every inch of your intestines. Strength to believe that somehow, someday things will get better. It takes strength to stand and say "I am content and I know I am blessed". It takes strength to count your losses as gains. It takes strength to say "I'm going to become a better person because of this experience". It takes the up most strength to believe that although you have limitations and restrictions....the possibilities are endless- to choose to stand firm and believe that you have limitless potential and no disease can take that away.

Living young with arthritis has been challenging to say the least but I wouldn't have my life any other way. This experience has taught me and is still teaching me things that I couldn't possibly relay in a paragraph, but in short; it has taught me things about myself that I never knew existed. I have discovered talents which otherwise would have lain dormant. I have dreamed dreams that I otherwise would never have dreamt- and I wouldn't change that for anything. Above all else, I've discovered a strength that I didn't know I had. I am damn proud to hold my head up high and say-"I'm a writer and I'm a fighter. I am a truly strong survivor."




© Emily Ruth 2010





Sources:
http://realtimehealth.com/conditions/arthritis/youngadultswitharthritis

Resources:
Lisa Copen's Chronic Illness Tips- 263 Ways To Do More Than Just Get By is a free e-book available to download when you sign up for daily updates. Visit www.invisibleillness.com







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