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To My Younger Self After I Was Diagnosed With Rheumatoid Arthritis

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I nodded at the doctor and sat there puzzled as to why the nurse looked so concerned at my complete acceptance of my rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I continued to nod at everything they said and hoped my mom was actually taking in the information. I was happy that they finally knew what was wrong, and in my head that was the same as them saying, “It’ll all be OK now.”

Little did I know that wasn’t the case. I had heard the nurse say “manage your condition” about 10 times in my consultation, but I was 15. To me, that meant I would get some medicine and in a few weeks I would be back to myself. No one in that hospital room told me about the emotional and physical roller coaster I would be on for the next 10 years.

There are so many things I wish someone or even my older self could have told me back then. However, until someone invents a time machine that won’t be possible. So this letter isn’t only for the scared 15-year-old girl of 10 years ago but to all those who have just found out they’re chronically ill.

Dear Me,

Wipe your tears, get Dad to make you a cup of tea, sit somewhere comfortable and get ready to hear some things no one else will tell you.

The nurses and doctors are very nice. They have sat you down and told you all about your medication, how often you have to take it and that you will have to take some blood tests every few months. But I’m afraid there’s also a lot they haven’t told you. They haven’t explained that having your condition “managed” isn’t the same as having it cured. The meds they have put you on will help a bit with the pain and it won’t always be as bad as it is now, but it will never be 100 percent better.

You aren’t the girl you were a year ago. It isn’t your fault, and you didn’t do anything to deserve it, but it has happened. It’s no one’s fault. It’s just the way of the world. Everyone has a cross to bear and this is yours.

It won’t always leave you in a state of agony where you are curled up in bed crying your eyes out, and it won’t always leave you feeling useless. There will be days when you feel like a superhero because you conquered something that was incredible, and you did it despite the hurdles the disease put in your way.

Stop being embarrassed. Arthritis isn’t something only older people get. Babies to grandmothers can all get this condition, and there are different forms of it, too. Stop trying to keep it to yourself. Start telling the world and their dog about it and educate people on the fact that you’re pretty impressive because you achieve so much even with a chronic illness.

Your little sister doesn’t hate you or think you’re pathetic. Give her some time to come around to this. You may be young, but she’s even younger, and as hard as it is for you to wrap your head around this, imagine how she feels. One day you’re her big sister protecting her from the world or at least trying to, and the next you’re crying your eyes out every morning because you can’t button your school shirt. She will become one of the most understanding people about your condition and be with you every step of the way. You just have to give her a chance to get there. 

Don’t worry too much about what your friends think. To them, you’re still you. It’s just that you’re sometimes sore now. You’re still a flirt and a bit of a klutz. None of that changes because of RA and it never will (even the klutz bit, unfortunately).

Stop thinking no boy will ever love you because of it. Sure, it adds an additional hurdle to any relationship, but you’ll find someone who supports you, pushes you when you need to be pushed and understands when you’ve reached your limits. He’s someone who tries his best to understand where you’re coming from no matter how much it bewilders him at times.

Appreciate Mom and Dad and all they do for you. And while they may constantly remind you about hospital appointments and medicine, remember it comes from a place of utter love. 

There will be things you can’t do, and there will be times when you feel like you can’t keep up with the rest of the world around you. Try not to let it get you down too much. Try to be thankful for all the things you can do and all the opportunities you have.

Learn that it’s OK to not be OK. What you’re going through is tough, and, damn it, you can have days where you don’t get dressed, where you watch Netflix all day (Netflix is the TV of the future!) and eat chocolate. It’s OK, you need more rest than other people your age and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, you should see that as a perk. Well, it’s the only perk of the illness. If you look at it that way, it’s a little easier to cope.

Most of all, don’t let it stop you from doing anything you want to do in life. It is something you will deal with for the rest of your life but you will deal with it. It will become part of you and won’t make you less of a person. Although you may feel like that sometimes, that instinct is wrong.

You will meet others who have gone through the same things, and it will open your eyes up to the fact that you are not alone. You will still have a great life full of love, laughter and great memories. Your illness will allow you to gain empathy for people and what they may be going through, and ultimately your condition will allow you to become a stronger person.

Don’t cry. A lot of your life will be normal — makeups and breakups and nights out and fights with your mom and dad. There will also be the days when life isn’t so normal. Either way, you won’t ever be who you used to be, but you will be OK. You, in ten years’ time.

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Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: October 25, 2016
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