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To the Little Girl Who Called My Arthritis 'Badass'

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Shaky hands dance a paintbrush over rosy cheeks. “And a glitter nose, please!” you coo. I smile as I dip my brush in the pink glitter palette.

“Are you a boxer painter? That’s badass!”

I adjust my elastic wrist supports and tug at where they meet my knuckles, suddenly aware of their restraint. “No, I’m not, these help me paint better. My hands will get sore otherwise.”

“Oh.” You look down, as though disappointed by the not-so-“badass” reality. “What about your knees?”

I look down at my bound knees, now covered in facepaint. “My joints hurt when I move so I need to help them.”

“That sucks.”

You were quiet, squeezing your eyes shut while I painted a pink bow on your forehead. Suddenly, out of the awkward silence, you whisper two words that spark a strange sense of pride in my weary heart. “Still badass.”

As a casual face painter, I talk to dozens of kids throughout my week. I hear all kinds of weird and wacky stories and opinions. It’s not uncommon for kids to ask about my arthritis braces, and I get all sorts of assumptions regarding wrestling, boxing, skating, fistfights and karate. On the contrary, I get strange looks from adults. I get confused faces being the only teenager in the rheumatologist’s office and pitiful head shakes when I walk into the ER.

However, it was not until I was painting a purple cat on the face of one inquisitive little girl that I was told my fight against autoimmune arthritis was badass.

As a 17-year-old, being informed that I had autoimmune arthritic disease was humiliating. Explaining to my gym teacher in front of my friends that I couldn’t lift the 7 kg weight because I had arthritis was humiliating.

Needing to be carried up the stairs by my best friend because of a flare-up was humiliating. Teens don’t have arthritis — that’s for old people, right? I’m living proof that that belief is no more than a stereotype.

I was so used to being embarrassed by my disease, and being judged by it was a daily occurrence.

Then suddenly, you decided that it was badass. You have given me hope for our generation. Let’s stand up against this stigma that young people can’t be diagnosed with “old people diseases” like arthritis. Spoonies are badass. Thank you for helping me realize this.

Getty photo by Tishchenko

Originally published: September 8, 2018
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