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Tatum O'Neal's Honest Photo Reveals the Painful Side Effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may be thought of as an “invisible illness,” but as actress Tatum O’Neal revealed, the painful side effects can leave very visible evidence on your body.

In an Instagram post on Wednesday, O’Neal shared a photo of her back and described how RA caused each of the scars. She pointed out a scar from her last back surgery, a scar she incurred after a fall on her hip and red marks from heating pads.

She wrote:

Living with rheumatoid arthritis. A fall scratch scar on my right hip. And the back surgery scar from eight years ago. My last back surgery scar is on the front from February. And all those red marks are from heating pads — I probably should turn those down a little bit and, believe it or not this is me actually getting better. Cheers to everyone and rheumatoid arthritis can go fuck itself.

Earlier this week, Tatum shared a photo of herself sitting on a couch, explaining, “I’ve been in some rheumatoid arthritis bull crap but finally I’m feeling a little bit better.”

“I hate texting because my hands suck right now… so if I don’t text you back I promise it’s nothing personal,” she added.

O’Neal was diagnosed with RA in 2014. The Oscar winner (still the youngest person ever to win an Academy Award, which she did at age 10 in 1974 for her role in “Paper Moon”) told Arthritis Today she got concerned after she started having trouble walking; then her right hand swelled and ached. She was diagnosed with the condition soon after. An MRI also showed damage to her ankles.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints and causes inflammation there as well as other parts of the body such as the eyes, heart or lungs. Common symptoms include joint pain, swelling, stiffness, fatigue and fever. There are treatment options, but no cure.

Gloria Shannon explained in an essay for The Mighty that to an outside observer, RA may appear to be “just an ache in your knee,” but once you look deeper, you will realize how severely the condition can affect your everyday life.

My illness may seem invisible to the naked eye but really it just takes some time to open your eyes wide and see. You cannot possibly know what every person you encounter on the street is going through and no one could expect you to. But a friend, a colleague or a loved one has the capacity to see what is going on behind our fake smiles and lies of ‘I’m fine.’ You just have to look hard enough, and when you do, my invisible illness suddenly becomes glaringly obvious.

Tatum said because she already experienced depression, to cope with RA she takes her mental health seriously in addition to medication, exercise and healthy eating habits.

“My mental health is so important. I’ve had depression before. With RA, I always try to go to a place of hope,” she said. “I’ve got to get ahead of it. I’ve got to! I have a young spirit and want to be able to do anything in the world that I want to do. I want a long, healthy life.”

Header image via Tatum O’Neal’s Instagram

Originally published: January 16, 2020
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