At 28, you’re young – your whole life is in front of you. You make decisions and forge ahead. And then, like a hammer, it comes; the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The diagnosis seems to ruin everything. Now, the perfect career is anything but – it’s too challenging with RA. You feel different from everyone else – like an old person in a young person’s body. You wonder if you will make a good life partner or even whether you will get a date. What do you do now?
Well, first – take heart – there are others like you. A recent study documents that RA in young adults is more common than originally thought. The odds of a RA diagnosis when people are in their 20’s is approximately 1 in 714 for women and 1 in 2,778 for men.
Consider the experience of someone else in your situation. When Heather, a 23-year old piano performance major, began to have pain in her hands, her doctor gave her a list of possible problems, including leukemia. Everything is relative; when Heather received a diagnosis of RA, she was thrilled! The enthusiasm quickly faded when she began to understand RA could change her career path, and she had lots of questions. Now years later in mid-life, she says, “It was sad to lose my original goals, but I found a second love in a career I might never have found if not for RA.” Fortunately, with many new and very successful treatments available for RA, many young patients with RA can continue to pursue their chosen careers, even if those careers require highly functional joints.
Below are a few things that may help you.
Know the Facts
RA will be with you a long time, so get to know about it and commit to treating your body well. Early, aggressive treatment can help preserve joint function and quality of life. Read painACTION articles and/or take a class offered by an Arthritis Foundation chapter near you (http://www.arthritis.org).
It can be more challenging to find young people with RA, but an active search online and on social media sites will reveal others like you. Select friends and online acquaintances that cope in a positive manner and learn from them.
Allow Time to Adjust
The unexpected things in life usually require an adjustment, so allow yourself to feel all the emotions that come with them. But also be careful not to get “stuck” in a negative emotional state. Concentrate on the fact that most people with RA lead active and productive lives.
Improve Your Flexibility
Flexible coping is often needed when you have RA. Some days or seasons, it will be easy to whole-heartedly go after your goals. At other times, it may necessary to push yourself toward your goals. And some days, it will be necessary to rest. Find activities in which you are able to participate and suggest them to friends as an alternative to an activity that may damage your joints.
Keep Moving Forward
Sometimes it may be with leaps and bounds; sometimes it might be with small steps, but try to move forward toward achieving your goals. Aim to become a positive example for other young people with chronic diseases. There will be natural ups and downs, like there is with anything in life, so try to take them in stride and keep moving forward.
Heather acknowledges that though there have been rough times along the way, she is grateful. She used to be more self-conscious, but is now confident of her strengths and her physical limitations. “I’ve learned that I’m different, and that’s okay, because everyone is different in their own way. And I’ve learned that RA is part of my experience in life, but it doesn’t define me.” Many other patients with RA have had very successful responses to their treatment that they have very few limitations at all on their daily activities.