My first diagnosis of arthritis really didn’t worry me. I’d had some pains in my fingers but the steroid injection had soon stopped that and it was as if nothing was wrong. Looking back over those first few years I can’t say I took it at all seriously. Major denial. I remember the doctor saying, ‘Don’t worry, with the right care you’ll still be able to lead a normal life and have a family.’ I burst out laughing- hello?! Why wouldn’t I? Drama queen.
So, when someone asked me why I don’t talk about it often, I truly didn’t know the answer. In the beginning, I didn’t look like I had a ‘disease’. I partied a lot and worked just the same as anyone else. I was in pain at times, especially having to mark copious amounts of school work, but I hid it well I thought. I remember being told my own handwriting wasn’t very neat when marking books and I was fuming. I wanted to scream ‘I have ARTHRITIS!’ but I didn’t say a word. Anyway, they already knew this and obviously hadn’t factored that in. Didn’t they believe me? I was, obviously, mortified. A year or so after, nattering with the cleaner at work, we were discussing general aches and pains. She was clearly struggling herself. ‘I have arthritis too,’ I said, in a bid to be empathetic. She looked at me like I’d spat on her kids. ‘Give over; you know nothing about pain young lass.’ I didn’t mean to offend her. Maybe she was right. I could still do everything everyone else my age was doing so maybe I just needed to stop moaning. Others ‘empathised’ with me. ‘I once had it in my little toe, so I know exactly how you feel.’ My blank stare at them said it all. I couldn’t relate to the crippled cleaner lady and no one could relate to me. It was just easier to not talk about it. So, over time, I mentioned it less and less and even when it came up I said it with much less conviction than before. If I didn’t believe it myself, why did I expect anyone else to? And there was always that chance that it would just disappear, right? Except, it wasn’t disappearing it was progressing. To everyone else, though, it seemed my life carried on pretty much as normal and I was generally a happy bubbly girl about town. The exception to this was during my Rheumatology appointments. I could literally go singing into that hospital without a care in the world. Then, as I sat in Waiting Room 3, I had to face the reality of this disease. These nurses knew how much it crippled me, and I would begin to feel really vulnerable. They know how it affects your everything; your well-being, your energy, your ability to function and I felt very transparent. When they asked me how I was, they weren’t expecting an ‘I’m fine’ response which had become my party line, they really wanted to know. This meant going places in my head I’d been working so hard to block out. As I waited for my name to be called I’d feel the tears bubbling up and the sense of reality kick in. I think those ten minutes in that waiting room every 3 months gave a truer reflection of my reality than any other time. I didn’t like it one bloody bit and would shoot out of there as quickly as I could. Back to my safe pretend land.
It’s been ten years since I was diagnosed and it’s only now I’m ready to face up to it. Those appointments are not as scary anymore. Waiting Room 3 is just a familiar place I have learnt to embrace. I even donate my old O.K! magazines to the waiting room to update it a bit (no one really wants to read those arthritis leaflets, do they?) It can still be emotional because my feelings seem to come to the forefront but what I’ve realised is I also take away a lot from those appointments, I leave feeling calmer like I have lifted a weight off my shoulders. This arthritis won’t go away and the nurse was right, I can live a ‘normal’ life- how lucky am I?