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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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