Lately, I’ve been finding out that the month of May has been proclaimed a lot of things. For example, May is National Bike Month, Motorcycle Awareness Month, Mental Health Month, National Stroke Awareness Month, Older Americans Month and National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, among many more.
However, going through the list, there is one proclamation that hits near and dear to me— Arthritis Awareness Month.
You might be asking yourself, of all things, why would a young, seemingly healthy lady care about that one? Truth is, I am one of millions who have been diagnosed with arthritis.
Just three years ago, when I was 23, I found out I had been suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Crazy, huh?
Leading up until the day of my diagnosis, my hands had become so swollen and stiff that my mother had to start getting up with me in the mornings to help me do the basic everyday things like twist the shower nozzle, brush my hair and teeth and get the little buttons on my work blouse.
It was a bit scary and very unsettling at the time. I was beginning a new post-college chapter in my life and just starting to get the hang of things in my news reporting career. It seemed very unfair to be burdened with such an overwhelming diagnosis.
For those who are a little unsure about what exactly RA is, unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis —the stuff our grandmas and grandpas get— it’s an autoimmune disorder that affects the lining of the joints and causes painful swelling and can lead to bone erosion and joint deformity if not properly managed.
The day I was diagnosed, I came home confused and upset. How did this happen? Where did I pick this up? Will I be crippled in five years? What will my hands look like in 20 years? The questions consumed me.
I was put on medications that eventually took away the pain, and my fingers went back to looking normal. However, I had to make some life changes. I was told to stay away from alcohol as much as possible — not a fun deal for a young, social person. I had to avoid “high impact” activities — bike riding and swimming were not on my favorite list of things to do. And I had to learn to give myself an injection each week— this is something I’m still getting used to today.
I remember wondering how I would explain arthritis to my friends. I felt a sense of embarrassment and was ashamed to admit to others that I had something lingering that made me just a little weaker, a little slower, a little different.
It wasn’t until I started reading the monthly arthritis magazines my mom had purchased that I began to really feel comfortable with my situation. I read articles about people my age —some even younger— telling their stories of the disease and the medications they were forced to take and the things they learned to do to cope and move on with life.
When reading these stories, I felt comforted, a sense of relief and sometimes even grateful, as things could always be worse. Besides a limp here or there, sometimes a few swollen fingers in the morning or aches in my hands on days when there’s a dramatic weather change, I’m a pretty healthy person living with RA.
I believe reading those stories proved to me that having RA didn’t make a person odd or incapable. It just made them unique and maybe more cautious.
So today, I hope someone reads my story and is able to, in a sense, shed a feeling of being ashamed or embarrassed of a diagnosis they may be dealing with. Embrace what you have, and be grateful for the things you can do, rather than dwell on the things you cannot do.
BCR Staff Writer Goldie Currie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shaw Media Staff Writer Goldie Currie can be reached at email@example.com.