Growing Up Fast

I don’t remember a time before rheumatoid arthritis. My diagnosis came around age two and I lost the memories I had of being a rambunctious child who climbed the kitchen cabinets and ran around the yard.

Some of my earliest memories revolved around trying to avoid my RA treatments. I used to stuff my bitter morning pill in the seat cushion crack behind me during breakfast when my mother’s back was turned. (Sorry for being a pain, Mom!) And I absolutely hated doing my exercises.

At first I just couldn’t understand why my parents and doctors insisted on torturing me! What did I ever do to them?! But no, I soon realized that my caregivers were trying to look out for me and guide me through an aggressive treatment regimen in an effort to halt my disease.

Having a serious disease from a young age meant that I had to grow up fast. First, I had to know as much as possible about my illness and the course of the disease. I also had to learn and understand my treatments. My parents had the tough job of teaching me that unfortunately I had a lot of responsibility to bear as a child (and the rest of my life) because I needed to take care of my RA.

Although I hated it, I had to take my medications, go to my doctors’ appointments, suffer the pokes of blood tests, participate in physical therapy, and do more exercises as home. It felt constant, like a hamster wheel I could never escape. Not only was I in pain and slowly losing my strength and mobility, I was fighting a losing battle.

I think I learned maturity at an early age because I had to learn to cope with a very difficult situation and the accompanying emotions. There were lots of times when I was sad about my illness, my pain, the loss of my abilities, and the great difference I felt between myself and other children. I also felt angry to be in this situation, that it was deeply unfair and undeserved. But at my core I was just a child who wanted to be happy—and when I was able to forget my physical and emotional pain, I was.

Even though I grew up fast and took on the responsibilities of my RA, I was also just a kid. It was kind of a strange dichotomy to live with. I’d go to the doctor and he’d talk to me like an adult, explaining things and answering questions in the fullness that I expected. But then I’d go to school and a substitute nurse would question my ability to take my own medications. It was a topsy-turvy world of being a grown-up in some places and a child in others.

Looking back I am glad for how my maturity and life-view was shaped by living with RA from a young age. It made me strong and resilient for facing life’s challenges. I also learned how to be a happy person, despite living with chronic pain and disabilities. And although I had challenges learning to manage my RA and take care of myself, taking on those duties as early as possible ensured that I would be able to take care of myself throughout the years.

Growing up fast is not easy. It can be lonely and alienating, especially with peers who don’t understand. But I choose to think it gave me advantages in coping with life and RA. My road may have been rough, but it eventually lead me to a present that I very much enjoy.

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