My Invisible Illness: Auto Immune Arthritis

If you walked past me on the streets, most of the time I would like a normal 23 year old girl. The makeup I wear hides the bags under my eyes that derive from sleepless nights full of joint pain, the tablets that I'm on enable me to walk, but you can't physically see how much pain I am enduring and I might look a little bit overweight if you pass me in the streets, but I do try go to the gym, my joints don't like it anymore.

I once got to the stage where I was almost the epitome of good health. I was born premature, I diagnosed with asthma only a month later and ever since I popped out of my mothers stomach I've had problems. Almost four and a half years ago I made the conscious effort to lose a lot of weight and get my health back to scratch. I lost almost six stone through dieting and going to the gym and for once I was confident with my self and my health had improved.I barely had any health complaints and I was leading a normal life, fitting into clothing I never thought I'd have the opportunity to wear and exercising ferociously, something that I learnt to love.

I don't know how it what happened, what caused it and why it started to happen almost two years ago, I just started experiencing joint pain. I put this down to a lot of exercise and the fact that I have always had little bits of joint pain growing up, but nothing like this. The pain some days make the smallest of tasks so hard to face. Climbing up stairs was some days like being asked to climb up mount Everest. Within several months my health had deteriorated and I spent everyday in pain.  My life became a yo-yo of being in and out of doctor appointments. All the doctors looked at me as though I was lying and this made me feel ridiculously paranoid. I began to think am I losing my mind? Is this normal? My iron levels started to drop and on top of the pain, I started to feel the fatigue. In some cases, the fatigue felt worse than the pain. It was so debilitating. I just needed constant rest and I didn't know why. Eventually I saw one doctor that believed in me and she said it was about time that I saw a rheumatologist. I headed up to my local rheumatology ward and had a series of tests - the rheumatologist even said:" I very much doubt I'll find anything, you are just suffering from teenage pains like most girls." I started feeling rather depressed when I heard that a joint specialist didn't believe I had anything wrong. 

When I returned back to the rheumatologist, she shook her head and told me that the test results were inconclusive, but to not fear as she had one last plan up her sleeve. It was the ultrasound of my joints that finally confirmed what I had known all along. I have rheumatoid arthritis. It just so happened that the day of my tests, the sonographer was having an assessment and that there was a doctor in the room. When they scanned my wrists, hands and feet they found moderate swelling of my joints and finally showed me what was causing all my pain.

According to NRAS, the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society:
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, progressive and disabling auto-immune disease affecting 580,000 people in England. It is a painful condition, can cause severe disability and ultimately affects a person's ability to carry out everyday tasks. This disease can progress very rapidly causing swelling and damaging cartilage and bone around the joints. Any joint may be affected, but is is commonly the hands, feet and wrists. It is a systemic disease which means that it can affect the whole body and internal organs (although this is not the case for everyone with RA) such as the lungs, heart and eyes.
There is no cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis, just treatment that can help manage symptoms and delay any further damage. As I have only just started the treatment, I am awhile off remission, but at the moment I am coping relatively well. Some days I look normal and I can do the things I love, but other days can be a huge struggle. I try not to let it get the best of me as life is too short to dwell on things, you just have to live through it. But I can't ignore how RA has changed my life. I've gained a bit of weight (luckily only half stone) and going to the gym is difficult. I've lost some of my independence as I struggle to lift certain things and do the tiniest things some days. However I have gained the insight into a very different life and I am now able to take what I have for granted and I am constantly reassured that no matter how hard life is, there is always someone out there who is worse than me. I want to do things to help raise the profile of RA and show people that it is a difficult illness, but for those people out there suffering just like me, I want to use my blogging platform and my media skills to show these people that they aren't alone. This week is Rheumatoid Arthritis awareness week and I hope that if you read through even half of this post, that it changes how you see people. People might look healthy and normal, but sometimes they are struggling and need help.

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  1. Sorry to hear you've had such a rollercoaster. Ive worked with people with RA before and it's so hard to see they are limited in what they can do.
    Sending my love to you xx

  2. Hey Jessica! I just wanted to say that I was truly moved by your article. As a fellow RA sufferer I can identify with everything that you said and have been through. I hope your treatment kicks in soon and you can continue with your quest for all things glamorous! You are a girl after my heart and thanks for supporting NRAS and the amazing work they do too.
    Take care girl! X

  3. Reading this story really struck a chord with me. Like you I suffer from an invisible illness called Neurocardiogenic syncope. Most days I feel like I have been hit by a bus/ I am experiencing the worst hangover ever, only without the alcohol. suffering from exhaustion and dizziness and everything else in between. I occasionally faint with symptoms similar to fits, but for 80% of the year I look just about the same as any 24 year old girl.

    I myself struggled with the doctors believing me, being challenged numerous times and being told It was just hormones and part of growing up, until like yourself one doctor believed me and I am on steroids to control it for the foreseeable future.

    Thanks for sharing your story, it's nice to know you're not alone sometimes when you're struggling with an illness that so many others fail to see.


  4. RA is a git. I hate it so much but I'm so glad you haven't let it define you :)
    Have you checked out Arthur's Place ( it's a great website for young patient's with RA that I have been involved in setting up- do check it out!
    Keep going, it always takes time but I'm 26 (diagnosed with RA at 18) and have gone on to have all sorts of fun (+ am about to get my doctorate!!) Don't let it get in the way x


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