I was 18 and preparing for my A-levels when I got the diagnosis: rheumatoid arthritis. I’ve had symptoms since I was six years old. When they thought that it could have been arthritis, they dismissed it because it didn’t show up in any blood tests, so it’s been a long road to finally get the diagnosis.
At times it’s gotten so bad that I was paralysed from the neck down and had fluid in my lungs. Medication has helped bring it under control, but it’s still an up and down experience living with an unpredictable condition – some days I can be fine and other’s I’m unable to move.
As we approach the festive season, I’m feeling mixed emotions. I love Christmas and the build-up throughout December, but this also coincides with one of the worst times of year for me in terms of symptoms, due to the weather.
Celebrations with family, friends and colleagues soon mount up and suddenly I’m left with little time to rest and take care of myself. I am also someone who fears missing out on a social occasion, as I love spending time with friends and family. Sometimes I’m forced to prioritise the occasions that are truly important to me so I can get sufficient rest to make it through the festive period.
I have come to terms with the fact that I cannot do everything, so I have learnt to cherish the times with friends and family and then forgive myself for the times I do not feel up to it!
But because of this, I’ve felt lonely and isolated in past Christmas seasons when I couldn’t participate as much as I would have liked. Sadly, I’m in a large group of young people with arthritis who feel lonely at Christmas. According to Versus Arthritis, three-quarters of young people with arthritis echo my feelings of loneliness and isolation. And many of us feel embarrassed or ashamed to say we have arthritis. It’s often seen as something which only affects people much older, so we’ll often hide our pain from friends, colleagues and family.
I’m lucky, my parents and sister are really supportive and have been brilliant. Being honest with those around me has really helped me feel part of social occasions, and because they know what I’m going through sometimes we get together at mine instead.
Those of us with arthritis can find it hard to ask for help or confide how we’re truly feeling, so if you know someone with arthritis, making the first move and asking how they’re doing will be truly appreciated and makes it so much easier for us, and it can help you understand if we suddenly can’t make an event, trust me, we’d have done anything to be there!
If you’re reading this and like me, have arthritis and are anxious about this Christmas period, I’d urge you to tell others. Explain to your closest friends and family that you need to pace yourself throughout the festive season. Maybe suggest a couple of gatherings at your home or somewhere that is easy for you and comfortable.
On the occasions you feel up to it, try your best to get involved and don’t hide away due to the pain and insecurities you feel about your condition. If you are honest with people about your situation, people will help you!