Not a Fat Chain-Smoking Baby

I appreciate the research that has been conducted over the years about many health aspects that can contribute to the development or worsening of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. I avidly watch for news in this area to try to better understand what may have led to my juvenile case of rheumatoid arthritis (or now called juvenile idiopathic arthritis).

Risk factors for RA

Recently I had a laugh about how often I’ve read that being significantly overweight or obese and a smoking habit can cause or make RA symptoms worse. OK, let me clarify. These findings don’t make me laugh—it was the image of myself as a fat chain-smoking baby (like the character Baby Herman from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”)!

This image popped into my head because I started getting ill with JIA when I was about one year old and diagnosed about a year later. It makes me laugh because lifestyle choices were definitely not a contributor to my illness. I was not, in actuality, a fat chain-smoking baby.

A genetic component?

It’s still possible that something environmental somehow nudged the disease into fruition. I have a theory that genetics are involved because autoimmune diseases run in my family. But I can’t attribute the disease to clearly defined health factors. Up until I started developing symptoms, I was an active and healthy baby.

So I get bothered when strangers ask me what I did wrong or people assume I didn’t make healthy choices in my life. My JIA has nothing to do with choices. I just happened to have developed a nasty disease and am highly talented at producing inflammation. While I work hard on my diet, exercise, getting proper rest and so forth—my disease keeps on humming along and laughing at all my efforts.

RA: not a consequence of one's eating and health choices

Don’t get me wrong, living as healthfully as possible does help. It gives me a fighting chance and extends my longevity and endurance. But my disease and the severity of the damage has nothing to do with choices that I have made.

I think people see my disabilities and they want to affix blame—that I somehow deserved my body through evil actions or poor decisions. It is too frightening for them to think that it could happen to them (or anyone). They don’t want to think that there’s no discernible reason. Or that actions don’t matter because disease and disability can strike without warning or understandable cause.

It makes me want to send them back in time to when I was a baby. To ask the question—does a baby deserve this? Does anyone deserve this disease? No one ‘earns’ an illness. No one should be subject to pain and illness. But it happens because nature is a creative being with a universe of variation. I live with a disease that I did not want nor can control. The best I can do is to manage to live with it and live the best life possible.

So pardon me if I indulge in a little dark humor and imagine myself as a deep-voiced, chubby baby with a chain-smoking habit. It sounds a lot funnier when you have grappled with RA. I have a taste for twisted jokes because RA has played many cruel jokes on my body. If I flip the idea, I might feel better if I really was that baby—if losing weight and quitting smoking would have stopped my disease. It would give me more control than I actually have over a disease that has been a significant challenge. But this is just not the case and so I have to just laugh instead.

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