I want every young person to know that arthritis doesn’t have to derail your life. Ten years ago, after graduating with a degree in Kinesiology at the age of 21 I was feeling excited and optimistic about my future. I was hired for my first full time job as a research assistant and I was loving my new position. However, shortly after beginning this new stage in my life I hit a roadblock. For periods of time my knee was so stiff I could barely walk and my neck felt as though it was trapped in a vise. My family doctor said I just needed to “be more active”, that the pain was just from “sitting at a desk all day”. Every time I left her office I felt more and more defeated.
For the next few years I just accepted the pain, trying to hide the limping and the exhaustion from my colleagues and peers. The decision to start graduate school at the age of 24 was an extremely difficult one. I was still battling with the unexplained stiffness and an inability to sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time. Nevertheless, I was accepted into graduate school at McMaster University and I just hoped that my symptoms would start to improve. Unfortunately, they only got worse and the pain began to wreak havoc on my hips and spine. I could not sleep or play the sports I loved and my productivity at school was declining rapidly. I knew I had to seek a second opinion. After multiple doctor visits and numerous medical tests and scans, I was finally referred to a rheumatologist. My first appointment with the rheumatologist changed my life forever. Someone finally understood me. After helplessly searching for almost 5 years I had the bittersweet answer to my questions. I was 26 years old and I had Ankylosing Spondylitis. It was a huge relief to know that there was an explanation for my suffering, but I had to accept the harsh reality that there was no cure, and that this disease would be with me the rest of my life.
Although the diagnosis was a tough one, the support from my friends and family, an amazing rheumatologist and treatment plan (thank you biologics!), and an inspiring fitness community have allowed me to take control of this condition. I’ve been able to get back to the sports and activities that I love and ultimately, I was able to successfully complete my PhD.
Now, at the age of 31, I can embrace my diagnosis and I am so proud of what I have accomplished. Arthritis is known as an invisible disease. This is especially true for the young and otherwise healthy victims. I know first-hand how extremely frustrating and isolating it is to feel the constant skepticism of others. Although my journey has been a difficult one, it has given me the courage and perseverance to accomplish anything I set my mind to. It’s a life-long up-hill battle that we have to fight, but I want everyone to know that you don’t have to suffer in silence. You are not alone and there is light at the end of the long tunnel.
This story is a part of an ongoing feature on Young Adults, as part of our Arthritis Awareness Month. Read more stories here.