My arthritis didn’t appear overnight. It started when I was 8 with what everyone thought
was a sprained knee. I remember sitting out on sports day that summer with not much in
my head apart from what I wanted to doodle on my cast.
I was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis just after I turned 9. By the time I was a
teenager, it had spread from my knees to my ankles, fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulder.
Initially I was put on methotrexate but, as is often the case with children, this came with
some killer side effects. I didn’t grow for 3 years and became anaemic. Worst of all was how
anxious I felt on medication day – I was so worried about how awful I’d feel afterwards that
I became ill from stress.
Luckily, when I started secondary school I switched to a biologic, which felt like a miracle
drug to me. It had barely any side effects and suddenly I had energy again. I joined a local
taekwondo club and, between training and my medication, managed to stay well for most
of my school years.
Throughout that time, I never really acknowledged that my arthritis was sticking around for
good. When I was first diagnosed, my rheumatologist told my mum that it would likely ‘burn
itself out’ as I grew up, so when I was 14 I was weaned off medication. Unfortunately, this
led to a particularly aggressive flare.
That was the first time I’d been able to properly process both the amount of pain I was in
and the damage I could feel happening in my joints. Walking to and around school, I felt like
my knees were eroding. Worse, we’d started GCSE work and I was struggling to hold a pen.
Despite that, I was too scared to tell my friends or even talk about it with my family. I felt
like I wasn’t supposed to complain and I didn’t want to be seen as ‘that kid with a disease.’
When my next big flare up happened, I still felt that way at first. I was 20 by then, about to
take my final exams at university, on the campus’ cheerleading squad and with a part-time
catering job. The timing couldn’t have been worse and I felt the familiar sinking feeling as I
realised what was happening in my body.
But instead of trying to keep it to myself, I gradually started to tell friends about it. I started
with a student nurse on my cheer squad, then slowly branched out. Now, after some handy
steroid injections, my condition is fairly stable again. I graduated from university, did a
Masters, got back into taekwondo and got a full-time job.
I’d be lying if I said I feel 100% comfortable talking about my experience, even now at 22.
But speaking to other young people with arthritis has made a huge difference; I feel part of
a community, which has really helped me to accept that I’m in this for the long haul.
I think one of the most important things is to value what you’ve managed to achieve despite
your condition. I have a long list of things I want to do with my life, and I won’t be writing
any of them off because of arthritis.