Having arthritis really sucks sometimes. It’s inconvenient at best and excruciatingly miserable at worst. It weaves its way into every aspect of your life and leaves its mark in all sorts of ways. It’s really easy to point to its negative effects – pain, isolation, lack of independence, frustration and the way it just complicates everything. However, what’s often overlooked with many chronic illnesses and disabilities is the way they can shape you in positive ways as a person. I think I would have grown up to relate to the world in a different way if I hadn’t had arthritis since childhood; not necessarily in a better way or a worse way, just differently. Some of the aspects of my character that I’m most proud of have, I think, been enhanced by the experiences I’ve had. Let me elaborate.
Struggling with an ‘invisible’ illness has taught me that it’s almost impossible for people to understand exactly what I’m going through. Likewise, I now realise that it’s almost impossible for me to understand what’s going on for other people. What I can do is recognise that they’re going through something, and offer what support I can without pretending that I know how they feel.
Arthritis can definitely strip you of your physical independence in some respects, like being 30 and not being able to put your own socks on. For me, this has meant that I relish my independence in other areas of my life and I do what I can to protect it. For example, I have worked hard to become financially independent, to learn basic DIY skills so I can take care of my own home and car, and to educate myself about my illness so I can make informed decisions about my own treatment. Even though I feel I’m about 12 years old most days, these little bits of independence help me feel like a successful adult at least some of the time!
Critical thinking and problem solving
How many roadblocks does arthritis throw in your way each day? Trying to open a jar, moving something heavy, facing an important deadline and experiencing a flare…. I’ve learnt that there’s a way to get everything done; it just requires a bit of creativity and lateral thinking. What surprises me is how much this little bit of ‘outside the box’ thinking impacts the way I approach other problems and obstacles. I think it’s made me far more likely to take a step back, consider a whole load of solutions, and choose the best one in the circumstances. It’s a really useful skill for study, work, and life in general.
Arthritis sometimes feels like one step forward and a hundred steps back. I go through phases when no matter how hard I try, each day is a struggle to get through, and making any progress on the bigger picture seems impossible. I have no doubt though that this has made me more resilient to the knocks of day-to-day life. I can put things in perspective and cope more readily with unexpected developments that fly in from left field. And when something goes wrong, I’m more able to just let it roll off me and start again.
So there it is – arthritis goes some way to proving the age-old adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I’d be interested to know what positive effects arthritis has had on others for whom it’s a daily reality.