“It’s Okay” and Other Things I Would Tell Newly Diagnosed Me

2020 is a special year. And no, I don’t mean because the world is imploding right in front of our eyes. I mean because it’s been ten years since I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

The last decade has been a roller coaster of medications, lifestyle changes, emotions, doctors, surgeries, and general craziness. I’ll be honest: 20-year-old me was NOT ready for it.

20 years old and an RA diagnosis

20 year old me was a college student. She was completing her first-choice major, in her first-choice career track. Things were great. She had never been sick except for recurring sinus infections. She had heard of chronic conditions, but she had no first-hand knowledge of them or what it was like to live with one.

I had no idea what my diagnosis meant

When I was diagnosed, I felt scared, a bit lonely (nobody I knew had an autoimmune), and worried about my future. Those are pretty normal emotions after being told I was going to live with an illness for the rest of my life.

However, I had NO idea what that diagnosis meant. I just plowed through life like nothing changed. I didn’t even tell anyone (outside of work and family) that I had rheumatoid disease.

What I'd share with my newly diagnosed self

I know time travel doesn’t exist but I wish I could talk to older me and ask some questions and get some advice.  So, in honor of my first ten years, I am sharing a few things I would tell my newly diagnosed self!

1. It’s okay, life isn’t over

I honestly thought it was. All I wanted in life was to be a veterinarian and it seemed nearly impossible to be one with a physical disability. If I could barely get up the stairs how in the world could I handle animals twice my size? I had to put my vet school plans on hold at the time and I felt absolutely terrible about it. I thought my diagnosis ended my life as I knew it. What I wish I knew: I have limitations but I can accommodate them and life might even be better.

2. Take time to process

For me, learning about rheumatoid disease and how it would affect my life felt a lot like grief. I felt like I had lost my life and I sort of did. Life as I knew it was over. I tried to ignore my feelings, I tried to push through as though nothing was wrong and it made matters worse. What I wish I knew: like losing a loved one, I need to process this new information, understand it and only then could I move on and fight.

3. Don’t rush, be patient

Interestingly, I was not a patient person. I wanted everything and everything to happen now. I would push myself at warp speed and felt most comfortable when I was doing something. You can imagine my frustration when I found out I had to wait for my medications to work. Sometimes I wouldn’t see any improvement for three whole months, like with some biologics.

Do you know how much I could get done in three months? What I wish I knew: I will find medications that work, I will find good disease management but it won’t be overnight. Stay vigilant, take your time, and be patient. Everything will work out.

RA has taught me a lot in different ways

With time comes wisdom, and when you’re that young you often feel like the sky is falling when you get news like this. I tried to imagine my life in ten years and couldn’t fathom that I could live a good life. But, while there are many, MANY things I would change, I am happy.

In fact, the RA may have made my life better in some respects. I’ve learned to slow down. I’ve learned how to accommodate myself. I have learned empathy and sympathy and I have met some of my closest friends (hey Kelly and Richard!)
 
20-year-old me could not see past the diagnosis and I wish 30-year-old me could reach back in time, pat myself on the back and say, “It’s all going to be okay”.

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