I’m flat in bed today. I came home from work last night unable to sit comfortably. I went to bed, slept alright, and woke up with that same discomfort this morning. Dear rheumatoid arthritis I feel as though you have won today. And at 21 years old, I have a hard time believing that most people would understand that arthritis sometimes sidelines me. Arthritis is a real thing for people of all ages, not just the aged.

julieblogcoverI’ve been going to physical therapy off and on since I was 10. It normally helps take the edge off of the pain. I remember when I was 15 and having bad back pain I would take advantage of the therapeutic pool at my physical therapy clinic. I had a nice little punch pass. So I would go, and guess who was the only person under the age of 65? Me. If I got a penny for every time someone told me I was too young to be there, I’d probably only have about $5, but when you get $5 in pennies… that’s a lot of pennies.

After a time I grew really tired of people telling me that I was too young to be there, because frankly it was my reality. I mean what I knew at that point was that as a teenager I had this chronic pain and it wasn’t going away.

I would never say it made me angry, because I’m not really angry person, but it definitely made me feel shorted at times. Where did we come up with the belief that arthritis is just an old person’s disease? Where did we come up with the belief that depression can’t affect happy people? Where did we come up with the belief that chronic pain is all in your head?

Reality people. Reality.

I hope that I can lend a voice to those teenagers, or those even younger, who are struggling with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Yes, its a real thing. People have symptoms even younger than I had them.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes joint damage and affects people of all ages. Yes, old people get it, but so do those of us who are still in the first half century of our lives. There is no cure, there is only medication that can help to slow the process of degeneration. There is pain medication to take the edge off, and there are support groups and people worldwide to help us through our journey.

I hope and pray that we can. Sure they may look happy, or may have no signs of disease, but (and I can attest to this) we are good at covering it up. There were surely days where I walked with a limp, or I waddled because my back hurt. Most days though I’ll try to be just as “normal” as everyone else I see walking on campus. However some days I just can’t hide the limp. I work my best every day to make sure that I stretch, and exercise because it does ease the pain, but I’ve also learned to live with what is constant. Most days it is what I call normal. Its what I am used to bearing. However there are days, much like today, where any sort of function can just be thrown out the window because as hard as I try, I can’t fight through the fog of exhaustion and pain. It literally clouds my mind. My best friends today are my husband (as always), bed, a heating pad, and netflix. I squeeze some homework in here and there because I’m not quitting on the beautiful life that I have.

I just hold onto the fact that tomorrow the sky will be a bit clearer. My hope will be brighter. and I will continue on with this amazing gift of a life.

I am 21 years old. I have rheumatoid arthritis, and I am not an old person. I among the crowd. Can you find me?

We are all around you. Living. Breathing. Having fun. So don’t judge the girl by her looks, the book by its cover, the disease by your lack of knowledge. Be a friend, lend a hand, and get to know someone. For your friendship and your effort may be an answer to their very prayer.

We all hold to hope.

And we will continue to.