Arthritis introduced itself to me in 2015. I was 29, a single mother to my son Jacob, then 2. It took me awhile to process how the energy of a toddler and chronic fatigue don't mix. Mothers can’t afford to take a sick day but there I was suddenly placed on Canada's number one cause of long-term disability for working age adults.
For the first two years I lived in fear, pain, anger, depression and panic as I felt and saw the devastating effects it was leaving on my life and those around me. My heart broken from no longer being able to work and those who support I needed most didn’t understand what I was going through.
I was petrified with fear I would never be able to get the relief I needed from this debilitating pain and crippling fatigue. I didn't want to be this angry, I couldn't shrug the grasp depression had on me, and so many more symptoms that arthritis is associated with. I thought arthritis was just joint pain. I was so very very wrong. Arthritis taught me pain comes in many forms with devastating effects.
I felt alone, like a burden, but in reality I was living the similar experience as 1 in 4 women in Canada. Today 6 million Canadians live with arthritis, that's 1 in 5 Canadians. I was now part of Canada’s largest chronic health community.
My earliest memories of arthritis were my late grandmother and aunt. The same week I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, my aunt passed away. Today I walk in their memory.
I have no memories of her without struggling to walk, mostly wheel chair bound, always in pain. Her death terrified me more as I discovered just how serious arthritis really is and all the comorbidities that can come with it, sometimes fatal ones. Heart disease? Lung disease? Cancers? Diabetes? Infections? It is believed arthritis often comes first.
I would not let arthritis win. If I was going to be the sick girl, I might as well kick ass at it became my motto.
My first step was to start taking my health seriously, I bought a gym pass and listened to the advice from reputable sources like The Arthritis Society, Mary Pack and my compassionate rheumatologist. I was able to significantly reduce my pain and fatigue with the loss of 60 lbs and falling in love with exercise and view food as medicine. Through my struggles with pain I found my voice and my purpose. I found myself. Arthritis is my villain and my blessing in disguise.
Even though I do not look chronically ill, arthritis makes daily life a struggle. A struggle which you can’t see when looking at me.
I often hear "but you don't look sick" when I say I live with an incurable progressive autoimmune disease that is attacking my own cells. People don't understand why I might be sitting in the disabled passenger seats on the bus or my need for the elevator, that the disabled parking pass is for me, not my 70 year old father with a limp.
Why am I on disability when I look perfectly fine. You can’t see the irreversible damage or dark cloud of consistent fatigue I have been promised for the rest of my life. Just push through it, you are young, it can't be that bad, it's just arthritis. Try turmeric.
As the prevalence of arthritis increases, so does the demand for investment into cutting-edge research, much of which is done here in Canada which I participate in and is funded by the Arthritis Society.
Today, I am walking because arthritis matters. It won’t stop me.