So I was meant to have this post written before I started my final year of university… which was back in September. Classic. But, despite the risk of me sounding like a cliche blogger, I have been v busy, from going to interviews, starting a new job, moving house and going to lectures. In the process I have had the opportunity to meet so many new people. So that’s what I’m going to write about today, and post today, because introducing yourself on its own can be daunting, you want to make a good impression on these new people (or maybe not depending on what sort of impression they have given you). Then add having to introduce Juvenile Arthritis on top of that, explaining what it is, how it affects you, and for me more importantly even choosing when to tell people about it, can make you even more nervous, at least that was my experience.
When I was younger, I shied away from telling people about my arthritis, I wanted to avoid all awkwardness, and just fit in with the rest of the crowd by ignoring my arthritis. But I had to tell people about my arthritis, because of my absences at school, for the weekly hydrotherapy and physiotherapist sessions and any other doctors appointments. I owed explanations for my whereabouts- quite flattering in a way. And then there was the massive writing aid, posture correcting cushion and laptop in class which gave the game away. I started by telling one friend, the girl who sat next to me in class because we were both last on the register. And I’m so thankful I did tell her, she supported me so much, through helping me catch up on work I had missed, carrying my support desk and being someone to talk to whenever my arthritis got me down. From then on I just answered my classmate’s questions, and I did try to ignore them, because I found the questions to be repetitive and I grew tired of people finding out that I was ‘different’.
When first starting university I also wasn’t that open about telling them I had arthritis. I remember telling my flat mates on my first night out actually. I found out that night that one of my other flat mates had Ehlers- Danlos Syndrome, which was why she received a free printer, just like I had, because we both struggled to write sometimes. I then explained why I had been given the very large disabled room with the en-suite bathroom twice the size of theirs- that it wasn’t just ‘luck’ but much rather the fact I could be using a wheelchair at points. It was quite lucky in a way that we were placed in the same flat, we could tackle questions together and we had that mutual understanding. But I then took a different approach with friends later on and told them about my arthritis in a jokey way, warning them about all the bottles they’d have to open for me, or how slow they’d have to walk with me to lectures. I became more confident talking about my arthritis after having made friends who acknowledged it, who asked a few questions and then took the mickey out of it too.
Now, in my final year of university, I approach the subject just by telling people straight away about my arthritis, if it feels right. Most people by then vaguely know what arthritis is, at least in old people, so it just becomes a conversation explaining how it affects me. I think what I’ve learnt throughout university is that your own confidence impacts the way people surrounding you act towards you. If you embrace arthritis as a part of who you are and acknowledge that it forms a piece of your life, you make people feel comfortable to ask questions and they don’t act differently. And nope, it’s not easy at first. Finding the right way to explain how you can be feeling absolutely fine one time, and during a flare it can impact you daily and quite severely, without scaring them, can be difficult, especially employers. And then come the questions, the sometimes repetitive questions, but questions are great! I embrace them now. It shows you that they are listening and want to know more about that part of you life, and how they can support you. Arthritis does impact a friendship, be that at school, uni or work, I need friends who understand my ups and downs, who forgive my moods during my flares, and who can open all of my crisp packets and various jars for me. Yes, there’s always a fear that people will act differently, but if they do, it’s their loss. It’s important to have people who understand what you’re going through and telling them is such a great help, so be confident. With every person you tell you soon build confidence to tell others, and so your support network will grow 🙂