I am not an Arthritis Superhero. I don’t work at one of Canada’s best workplaces for employees living with arthritis. I didn’t participate the annual World Arthritis Day in any special way other than my daily dog walk. I don’t produce videos on living with arthritis to win international acclaim. Nor have I ever been nominated or honoured for any outstanding community leadership in the arthritis field—nor do I expect to be recognized.
What I am is one of the 4.6 million men, women and children diagnosed with arthritis, who soldier along as we cope with our maladies and pains as best as we can. While all of the above mentioned “happenings” connected with increasing arthritis awareness create an all-important public buzz, the rest of us mortals are left trying to figure how to climb a flight of stairs, or twist off the top from a jam jar, or find a comfortable sleeping position. In other words, it’s all about our personal struggle on a daily basis to get through the day (and night) in a positive way, and then try to repeat it over and over again . . .
One of the ways I feel supported is to participate in workshops or discussions or conferences on arthritis. Ordinary arthritic folks attend these events, along with employees from various arthritis associations or companies with vested interests in our health (i.e. drug manufacturers). I’ve learned new information about ankylosing spondylitis (AS), met others similarly affected and found a way to contribute to the ongoing dialogue about how one can live life to the fullest, despite the diagnosis. Participation, even in a small way, helps to contribute to a growing chorus about arthritis and its impact on society.
I especially recall an occasion (several years after I was diagnosed with AS) when I attended an information session to learn more about the disease. A young woman with AS asked a rheumatologist participating in a panel discussion on how AS would affect her plans to start a family. She was provided with a long, technical (and somewhat scary) lecture on the possible dangers of pregnancy and what symptoms she might face along the way. I later sought her out at the coffee break and related my very positive pregnancy experience. I felt that my support was instructive, affirming and sympathetic, and I hope that by sharing my real life experience I gave her an alternative view.
The important take-away or message for me from attending arthritis events is that we’re in this mess together. I am heartened by the fact that I’m part of a larger community with the same health concerns. The vocal and heightened movement to bring AS to the forefront and involves AS’ers in the public discussion, is a personal source of comfort. There definitely is strength in numbers. ~Fran