Location: Nutley, NJ
Diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at age 26
1. How has your condition affected you? Living with RA has impacted my life in many ways, both positive and negative. While I have had to give up some things that I used to love to do, I have gained a greater appreciation of myself and respect for my body. I am much more attune to my body, I eat healthy, and I maintain an active lifestyle though I am conscious of my limits. I have met some amazing people and made some wonderful friends through RA. I have become connected to the RA world here in New York and I try to stay informed and keep up with research, news, and treatment options. I am also not shy about talking about my condition and I have taken several opportunities, both formally and informally, to be an ambassador for RA. I feel that the more I talk about my experience and share my RA story, the more people will be aware of RA and the realities of autoimmune diseases.
2. What would you like for other people to know about your condition? One of the biggest challenges of an autoimmune disease is that it is an invisible illness. While I look young and healthy, I am not always able to do things. It is especially difficult living in a fast-paced and aggressive city like New York. Having RA has made me much more aware of invisible illnesses and I try to be conscientious of those around me. Certainly for me the worst thing is being bumped or jostled on the crowded sidewalks. There have been times when I have been hit with a purse or a passing shoulder and this has sent me into a flare that can last several days. I always try to be aware of those around me because, aside from my own protection, every fifth person is dealing with some form of arthritis.
3. What would you like to tell someone who is recently diagnosed with your condition?
It gets better. Trust me.
I lived with symptoms of RA for about six years before I was finally diagnosed. I had X-rays, tried insoles in my shoes, saw different doctors until I finally met a doctor who truly listened to me. When she said to me, "I know what this is and I am going to help you" it was such a turning point in my life, a glimmer of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Getting that diagnosis really gave me hope. Knowing what it was that I was dealing with allowed me and my doctor to establish a course of treatment and work towards our goal of getting me back on my feet – literally and figuratively. Many people say that being diagnosed was a terrifying moment for them. But for me it was hopeful and almost liberating.
In terms of treatment, be sure to consider all of your options and don't be afraid to try new things. There are so many options available – both drug treatments and natural supplemental options – and so it is possible to maintain a life with RA that is free of disability and joint deformity. It is very important to establish a balanced course of treatment, so find the right drug cocktail and combine that with eating well, seeing your rheumatologist regularly, and then stay active and just keep moving!
Always remember that RA, or any chronic illness, does not define you but becomes a part of who you are. Once you can accept it for what it is, you will be able to move forward and learn to live with it.
Thanks so much Ainslie!!