Talking to Myself

There are so many things I would like to tell myself as a child. If I could write a letter to my younger self, I feel like I could share so much comfort and affirmation. It would go something like this:

Dear Kelly,

I know how hard it is to be young and living with rheumatoid arthritis. It is not fair that you should have such a difficult disease and live in pain every day. You have been given a heavy burden, but I want you to know that you have the strength to bear it and be a happy person with a full life. Take these tips with you on your journey:

You are stronger than you know. There will be times when you feel terrible and will struggle with serious health issues, but you will persevere. Not only are you incredibly, beautifully stubborn, but you have a supportive family and friends who will encourage you and see you through rough patches.

Being afraid is OK. You don’t know what will happen with your health and what challenges you may face. It’s natural to have fears and you’ll get through them. But don’t live in fear—instead enjoy every day, pursue activities that make you happy and build a life that you love.

Don’t let other’s expectations rule you. Live for yourself and not under the thumb of others. By that I mean—don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. If you want something, go and get it. This means college, career, family, friends and all those experiences that make life fulfilling. The naysayers are dull and unimaginative, which is the opposite of who you are.

Be prepared for surprises.Sometimes your RA will throw down a challenge that comes from nowhere. You may not know how to handle it, but you’ll find a way to cope. You’ll have resources and backup, but also creativity to find new ways to do things. Sometimes you’ll be making a new path into unexplored territory.

Help others when you can. Just because you have RA doesn’t mean you can’t give back. Share your experiences and what you have learned. Maybe it will help other people with RA or those who will find your perspective helpful. You have talents that can solve problems and contribute to your community.

Smell the roses. It will be easy to get lost in the daily struggles of RA—the pain and limitations. So take the time to enjoy each day. Remember that beautiful roses come adorned with thorns, that the challenges of your life still bring joys.

Never give up. This will become one of your guiding principles. When things look impossible, when you don’t know how to manage, keep holding on and you will get through it. Find something to grip and don’t let go. You will persist. Think of yourself as inevitable and you will endure.

You will find your way to cope and thrive. It may seem improbable, but it will happen. Not only that, but you’ll have a much richer life that you can now imagine. You’ll live in new places, meet new people, travel and find new loved ones. Life will be full of wonderful surprises. While you will struggle with RA, it will not be your defining attribute as a person.

So while you’ll have your down days, take heart and know that it won’t last forever. You’ve got a lot to look forward to and many things to do. Know your strength, embrace what you love and go forward with this encourage from the future. After all, I should know!

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