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Sixteen and….battling RA?

The hardest part of being diagnosed with RA as a young adolescent was that no one believed it was true. Even my primary care doctor didn’t believe me at first. After over a year of symptoms, I had decided to schedule an appointment. His response to my worries? “Growing pains.” Excuse me, doctor, I’ve been done growing for years. This 5’4 beauty is NOT getting any taller. At a later visit, I showed him my mysteriously swollen ankle (it looked like a purple water balloon), and he responded with “Huh, that IS impressive” and gave me a recommendation for a local rheumatologist.
My very best friend since grade school had decided to tell me (loudly, in front of my entire freshman P.E. class), “You have MENTAL arthritis, it’s all in your head.” At least I got that out of my diagnosis – a chance to prove her wrong.
The year of my diagnosis came along with many doctors visits, blood tests, pamphlet readings, prayers, tears, knee braces, and meds. My weekly medicine box was overflowing and eventually included reminders for weekly injections as well. I was also switching high schools and trying to find a place to fit in. My daily thought process seemed to be, “Why me?”
Now, I’m 20 years old and a junior in college. I’ve come to embrace my illness, and the community that comes with it. I’ve begun to find ways to get involved and to spread awareness about invisible illnesses and what they mean. Every day is a fight. My best friends, my family, and my boyfriend all struggle to understand just what I go through. But it makes me who I am. My illness does not define me. How I handle it defines me.

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


  • Kelly Mack moderator
    4 years ago

    Love your attitude and strength Meg! I was diagnosed at age two and it took several doctors because like you’re story they didn’t believe my symptoms or thought I was faking. How do you fake swollen joints, I don’t know?! Keep fighting! Thanks for sharing your story and inspiring us all.

  • Reid Lamb
    4 years ago

    Wow you have no idea how much I needed to see this today so thank you so much! I’m also 20 and a junior in college who just so happened to have just been diagnosed with RA a few months ago and let me tell you it has been an absolute whirlwind trying to wrap my head around all of this.
    Honestly, I found this site after having to put down all my study materials because of the nonstop flareups that I guess just come with being a college student (tbh have no clue what’s normal and what isn’t?) so seeing this and finally feeling like someone understands what I’m going through is more of a blessing than I’m sure you intended with this post so all I can say is thank you!

  • Brie
    4 years ago

    Thank you so much for writing this! I was diagnosed at 8 and nobody knew what to do with me. I understand the PE situation and the MENTAL arthritis comments hit close to home. Unfortunately there will always be those people who don’t understand and question our diagnosis but there are also plenty of people willing to learn and understand what we’ve been through.

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator
    4 years ago

    Hi Meg –

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story. I was diagnosed at age 25 and they told ME I was too young, so I can only imagine how hard it must have been for you. I’m inspired by how you have been able to embrace your illness and I’m so glad that you have found our community!

    ~Mariah~ (Site Moderator)

  • Ali
    4 years ago

    Hi Meg,

    Thank you for sharing your story here. It is VERY true that people have a difficult time understanding what you are going through no matter how much you explain it to them. You are wise beyond your years. Keep fighting and raising awareness!


  • Kayla Gallo
    4 years ago

    Hi Meg-
    I know exactly how you feel! I was diagnosed with JRA at 9 and had many of the same experiences you describe. Family friends, teachers, my pediatrician, all made it quite clear that they thought me and even my mother were exaggerating, and that there was nothing really wrong with me. I even had an elementary school guidance counselor tell my mom she had Munchausen’s by proxy. After I was formally diagnosed all those people had to retreat with their tails between their legs, which was a bit vindicating. Yet that doubt followed me my whole life, and continues to. I’m 24 now, so I still regularly get the “you’re too young” spiel. But regardless, it’s always nice to know that you aren’t alone and that someone out there understands! You’re a brave, strong person, never lose that!

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