What It Feels Like to Be Diagnosed With Arthritis at 18

“Why are you laying down?” “Can you get up please?” “I understand you’re in pain, can’t you do something about it?”

These were all questions I had a difficult time answering for three years of chronic pain in my neck. After managing the lingering effects of my traumatic brain injury for so long, I expected this is where all the pain stemmed from.

I sat in the office of my neurologist on a Wednesday morning. In my head, this was a typical appointment setting I was used to, a checkup on my brain, some referrals to places that may make this less difficult to deal with and a new prescription or two the doctor wants to test run. Instead of the doctor I was expecting to come in, I was met with the nurse practitioner because the doctor does not always have the time of day to see me. She greeted me with a cheerful tone ready to discuss the results of my MRI with me. “The good news is, there’s nothing out of the ordinary with your brain. The bad news is, you seem to have arthritis in your neck. We should probably get you to a rheumatologist. See you in six weeks!”

My heart dropped dramatically; the immense amount of pain I’ve been feeling in my neck for who knows how long is just the start of a painful lifelong battle. I’ve watched people I know who have only had arthritis for 10-20 years and are constantly dealing with an immense amount of pain. If I already struggle to physically get through the day at 18 years old, how will I ever make it into my old age?

The truth is, having an arthritis diagnosis this young isn’t relieving to the pain, but can feel defeating. A friend of mine responded to the news I had received by jokingly saying, “You have arthritis and you’re only 18? How are you going to feel by the time you’re 30-40?” I know the intention was not malicious, but in my head I was asking myself the same questions. How will I ever make it to my old age? How will I be a functioning member of society? Will I live in this amount of pain but worse for the rest of my life?

An arthritis diagnosis is something you would never want to receive at 30, 40 or even 50 years of age, let alone when you’re just beginning to come into the world as an adult.

The truth is, 350 million people worldwide have arthritis. The diagnosis can be damaging to one’s spirits, but also can motivate you to call for advocacy for this chronic illness. Although treatment does not cure, it can make life more enjoyable, even for those who live their entire lives with arthritis. There will be people who do not understand how painful days can be living with this condition and it may be frustrating, but that does not mean all hope is lost. Arthritis may put a bump in the road, but it doesn’t put it to a complete stop.

Getty Image by utkamandarinka

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