Tuesday, July 3, 2018

What Arthritis Looks Like

          Arthritis can look like all sorts of things. It can look like a friend of mine who struggled to breathe as an infant. It can look like a ninety-five-year-old with no cartilage left. In light of Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month, the examples below describe some of the ways arthritis has looked for me over the past few days, in the midst of travel, work, and a flare. This is not what arthritis looks like for everyone, but I hope it serves as a reminder that this illness is way more expansive than our predominant cultural narrative of it. 

          Arthritis looks like a teenager lying in the fetal position with tears in her eyes for three hours on the scratchy, gray carpet of the San Francisco airport. 

If one is going to be miserable in an airport, one might as well
be miserable while watching planes take off.

          Arthritis looks like mindlessly watching "Say Yes to the Dress" and cringing, because even just watching the excruciatingly painful movements required to try on dresses hurts.  

          Arthritis looks like slowly attempting to move each joint one by one before getting out of bed in order to reduce the ridiculous amount of morning stiffness despite spending the entire night under a heated blanket. 

          Arthritis looks like an undergrad who appears to be perfectly healthy injecting a syringe full of toxic yellow liquid into her stomach, which will undoubtedly make her nauseous and tired, before heading into work. 

          Arthritis looks like a vegan who loves to cook preparing a fresh, delicious lunch, only to eat a couple of bites before placing the rest in Tupperware and blending a smoothie instead because her jaw hurts too badly.  

          Arthritis looks like an intern lying in her bed in her professional clothes, with her backpack on her shoulders and tears sliding off her cheeks, because getting ready for the day took up 100% of her energy and now she is unable to actually go to work. 

          Arthritis looks like thrashing uncomfortably in a half-asleep state, unable to find a position that does not produce intolerable pain. 

Thankfully, arthritis can also look like happier moments,
such as going out for ice cream with my sister before a
jaw physical therapy appointment a few weeks ago,
to balance some of the harsher realities :)

          Arthritis looks like standing shakily in the back of a plane only one hour into a five hour flight, begging the flight attendant for ice to put on swollen joints and intentionally using the phrase "musculoskeletal disease" because having to explain in the midst of a flare that kids get arthritis, too, would require too much energy.

          Arthritis looks like staring blankly at the draft of a time-sensitive email for forty-five minutes, because joint pain can make concentrating on a simple task nearly impossible. 

          Arthritis looks like a daughter texting her mom, "I am so frustrated" in reference to her flare and fatigue, and then screening her mom's subsequent phone call because she does not have the energy to speak. 

          Arthritis looks like a hastily scribbled note of doctors that need to be called, appointments that need to be made, and questions that need to be asked. 

          Arthritis looks like a sick person writing publicly about awful days, not because it is rewarding or cathartic in any way, but because she needs better resources, more treatment options, an expansion of current medical research, progressive healthcare legislation, an improved understanding of autoimmune illness, and a cure. 

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