Wisdom Gained as a Young Adult with Psoriatic Arthritis
I admit it: I’m actually a cranky old lady in the body of a twenty-two-year-old. While other girls smell like perfume, I smell like Bengay. My favorite past time is watching Jeopardy in bed with a hot water bottle on my aching back. And I have a cane, and I will whack you with it if you annoy me.
Having psoriatic arthritis made my youthful years a lot tamer, to say the least. While I try not to let arthritis hold me back too much, I have missed out on a lot. There have been missed parties, work opportunities, and spontaneous adventures for the sake of self-care. And even when I do get to participate, it’s often at a different pace than others. It feels like everyone my age runs laps around me, and I find it hard to fit in sometimes.
Sometimes I wonder
There are days I wish I was having the experiences my friends are having. A friend of mine recently ran a marathon for fun- can you imagine that? There are days I try to imagine what it’s like to have a body that is full of energy and bounces back. But that’s not my reality.
I do not consider my juvenile onset psoriatic arthritis a blessing in any capacity. But over time, I’ve learned to count my blessings. And while it seems strange, I’m thankful I’ve learned these things now because they’ve made my life so much more enjoyable.
Taking life at my own pace
It’s true that I often don’t have the energy level that my peers do. I see them jump from experience to experience. It’s exhausting to watch them, I can’t imagine doing it.
Life is so much better when you go at your own pace. Why rush when you can stop to smell the roses?
No, I don’t have the energy to go to the club every weekend. But when I do get to go, it’s an awesome time and a special memory. And when I travel, I do so at my own pace- strolling around and savoring every detail. I might not do everything, but I’ve learned to appreciate what I can do.
Being chronically ill also helped me make true friends. It’s not hard to weed out wishy-washy friends when you go at a snail’s pace, need a rest every 15 minutes, and dislike nighttime plans because –heaven forbid– I’d in bed later than 10 o’clock. It can be lonely, but it’s better to have a few real friends than a hundred fair-weather friends.
Real friends stick around through the flares. They may not know what it’s like to live with chronic pain, but they understand when I need time to recover. Friends who ask “how are you doing, for real?” are friends you keep close.
Self-care is important
Almost everyone my age is constantly busy. I think young people often feel pressure from their families and schools to take on more than they can chew. I know so many people who feel obligated to overextend themselves for academic, career, or financial reasons.
Whenever I try overextending myself, it always leads a flare and dropping the ball on all my responsibilities. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned the importance of self-care. And for me, that means taking on a little less than others. Sure, I have missed out on things. But better that than being stretched beyond my limits: I’m happier and healthier that way.
It’s so easy to tell myself these things. But some days, it’s hard to be gracious. Even though I’ve learned so many good life lessons, it doesn’t take away the fact that I’ve lived with chronic pain for most of my life. Sometimes, I need to take some time to grieve and be angry.
I think I have every right to be bitter. I’ve had psoriatic arthritis since I was very small, and I’m dealing with health problems unheard of for a twenty-year-old. But I don’t want to be a bitter because I have my whole life in front of me. Most days, I at least try to be optimistic and hold onto the positive things I’ve learned. I might be twenty-two with arthritis, but I’m also twenty-two with wisdom beyond my years.