I was 24 and a graduate student at Emory University in Atlanta and very busy with school when I began noticing pain in different limbs and joints, starting with my wrist, and then the other wrist, and then a knee, an ankle.
Eventually, I started feeling pain all over. It got so bad that it was difficult to turn my head while driving, or even to sleep through the night.
I was using little remedies here and there—I’d get massages, go to a chiropractor, but it took almost a year of this before I finally went to see a doctor.
The day I got my diagnosis, I was taken into a room by a not-so-pleasant rheumatologist who rattled off my diagnosis, wrote a prescription for three medications, told me I could never drink alcohol again, and then walked out.
I cried the entire walk from her office to the parking garage, and then the whole drive home while talking to my then-boyfriend, He tried to assure me that everything would be okay.
I wasn't convinced. Instead I thought about how fragile life is and how one's health can change in the blink of an eye.
I knew very little about RA at the time. There were a lot of scary Google searches.
My diagnosis changed my life in a lot of ways. Most importantly, it made me realize the vulnerabilities I have. I have to acknowledge limits in ways that I haven’t had to before.
I once saw myself as a person who could really do anything, Now, I need to be more conscious of balancing work and life and health, and focus more on doing things that are good for me, rather than trying to ignore that I’m in a body that is fragile.
Another challenge is staying realistic about the amount of work and responsibilities I can manage. I have always been a very active person in school, extracurricular activities, and community service. But now it can take great effort just to get out of bed. I've had to recognize my limitations.
But when I receive my PhD in May, it will be a reminder that despite the fact that the past five years have not gone the way I expected them to, I can still accomplish goals I set out to achieve.
I’ve learned some valuable lessons during this journey. First, be proactive about your health. It took me a year to seek a diagnosis of my pain. Fortunately, there was little damage to my joints, but that delay could have been hugely detrimental.
And share your diagnosis with others you trust, people who can support you when it gets difficult. You can’t expect people to know you have limitations if you aren't willing to share these things.
I know It can feel difficult to share something so personal with others.
It's worth it.