The Words We Use Matter

Years ago, back when my journey with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis was just beginning, I had an experience that will forever change the way that I speak to people who are struggling with a disability.

Too young for psoriatic arthritis

At that time, my back pain made it difficult for me to stand up straight, so I was hunched over a shopping cart, much like one would expect to see an elderly person. This shopping cart allowed me to walk to the back of Walmart to pick up my prescription for pain medication. As I was making my way through the store, a woman I knew stopped and asked me what was wrong. I could see the care and concern in her face. I told her that I had recently been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. I’ll never forget her words to me. “Arthritis! You aren’t old enough for arthritis!”

Overwhelmed

It was difficult to know what to say in response and I immediately burst into tears. I knew that she was confused and concerned. Yes, I was only 23 years old and I agree, I was far too young. But there I was. It was incurable. I don’t remember if I ever responded to her with words, but if I did, I’m sure that I explained the best I could through my tears. I didn’t know much about this disease at that time, except that I was in unbearable pain and that I was afraid for my future.

Intention versus impact

I’ve since learned that words can be incredibly invalidating, even with the best of intentions. I may not always get it right, but I want to be a friend who cares without judgment. The best that we can do for each other is to listen and be understanding.

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