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6 Things I Learned Growing Up As 'The Sick Kid'

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I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when I was just 4 years old. I am now 21 years old and I have learned a lot from when I was the “sick kid.”

I was still in preschool when I got diagnosed, so I have never really known a life where I wasn’t sick. In an odd way, I almost think it’s better this way. I didn’t know what it felt like to not be in pain or be sick from the fact that, as I put it as a child, my immune system hates me. After all, arthritis is first and foremost an autoimmune disorder. My immune system is way too busy attacking my joints to protect me from the bugs the kids in school passed around.

Growing up, I faced a lot of issues socially as a result of my arthritis. Some of it I brought upon myself. I remember coming home and asking “Why can’t I be normal? Why am I so different?” Yet as I grew, I stopped asking those questions so much because other kids were asking them for me. Throughout the years there was a lot of bullying, and I had the realization that people just didn’t get what was wrong with me. I was lucky enough to find a few good friends along this journey that helped me overcome the struggles.

Even today I still face a lot of the same struggles I did growing up. However, there are a few things I learned that I would like to share…

1. If you are a child with a chronic illness, you mature a lot faster than the other kids. By this I mean that I was well-versed in medical jargon at a very young age and I was able to tell you in depth about my illness.

2. Growing up like this often leaves you with a sense of “missing out” on really being a kid. Find some time, even if you’re an adult now, to be silly. Do something childish to make yourself laugh — you’ll thank yourself later.

3. Find someone to talk to. Whether it be a family member, a friend or a therapist, you should find someone who understands your everyday life that you can vent to. It is hard to go through this alone and no one should have to.

4. You are not your illness! I cannot stress this point enough. Growing up I was the girl with arthritis. Classmates would tell me “I thought arthritis was for old people” and then they would classify me by my illness calling me names like “old lady” and whatnot. Don’t let it define you.

5. On days your body says rest, you need to rest. Arthritis is a delicate balancing act. Move too much and you will be in pain and have potentially weak joints. Move too little and you will be in pain and stiff.

6. Be aware of what I like to call secondary illnesses. For example, chronically ill people can have very stressful lives. This could lead to anxiety or depression or any other number of issues. Always pay attention to your body.

These are just a few things I have picked up over the years that I have found help me out. If you have a chronic illness or a child with one, don’t hesitate to do research and get involved. For the parents, don’t worry about being over-cautious if you think something is wrong with your child. You just may be right and if not, you will have peace of mind.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: If you could go back to the day you (or a loved one) got a diagnosis, what would you tell yourself? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: May 27, 2016
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