The lump in my throat grew and I gave a half smile, hoping that would satisfy their need to know that I was okay. I prayed they would look away before the tears escaped down my cheek while I stood at the edge of the lake watching them all play and laugh. They hopped in and out of the little boat with ease. I tried to be happy for them but instead I just felt sorry for myself.

 

You see, I was having a flare-up and even making it out as far as the lake was a big deal for me.

 

However, in that moment I just wanted to jump, and laugh and play like the others, to be able to forget about my Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).

 

Here I was, at 26 years of age, and I simply had no energy to get in and out of a boat.

 

So, yet again, I stood at the edge of that lake and grief waved over me again. Grief for the ‘me’ that could have been, that should have been.

 

For what must be the umpteenth time I grieved for the 26 year old that the 15 year old me dreamed about.

 

She dreamed of being a writer, a teacher, an interior designer, of travelling the world, partying all night with her friends and getting up the next day to do it all over again.

 

At 15, all those dreams changed. First, there was a twinge in my knees. Then it was difficult to move my fingers or open doors. Walking started to become difficult.

 

I was scared, so I buried my head in the sand hoping it would just go away. I’d never experienced anything like this before. Of course, my parents noticed a change in me and insisted I go to my doctors. Multiple blood tests, x-rays, MRI scans and hospital appointments later I received my diagnosis. I was told I had Rheumatoid Arthritis.

I didn’t grieve then, because I don’t think I fully understood the severity of it all. I was sure I was going to get medicine and then I would be right as rain and back to normal. That’s how Doctors and medicines worked. They fixed you, right?

 

That wasn’t the case. ‘manage’ and ‘lifelong illness’ were the words thrown around. I remember hearing them and I also remember pushing them to the back of my mind.

 

My life had changed, but I lived in hope that medicine would cure all.

It definitely helped at first. Yet my day to day life was very different. It wasn’t until my Leaving Cert year that I really began to grieve for the future ‘me’ I had lost.

 

I recall sitting on my bed, with my arms raised, as my sister put my t-shirt on me, like she was dressing a baby. A big, adult- sized baby.

In that moment, I think I grieved for the first time.

 

It hit me that I was never going to have the life I had imagined and I was never going to be that carefree teenager that took her health for granted again.

 

I didn’t know what it was at the time. I thought grief was something you experienced only after losing a loved one. I never realised you could grieve for other things in life, like your marriage, your job… or your health.

 

I watched all my friends go to college as I was left behind. I had dreamed of college life for so long and, yet again, here was my health holding me back. I’d dreamed of going to college for so long. Instead I was at home, trying to become well enough so that I could go on to further full-time education.

 

I won’t ever climb Everest.

I won’t ever be the strongest person in the room and my life is harder that most at 27 year olds.

But I have now come to a point of acceptance.

I have accepted that this is my life. At times I might even say that I have embraced it.

 

I write about my experiences of living with this illness, both the sad and funny (yes, there can be humour in it all).

I volunteer with Arthritis Groups and so what I can to help others come to terms with their illness in any way I can.

 

The good news is that I got myself well enough to go to college and I got my degree?

Unquestionably one of the proudest moments of my life.

Being able to achieve that showed me how much is still possible with this illness.

 

So most days after living with RA for 12 years now I just get on with it.

 

I’ve been living it with it this long that honestly, I don’t really remember much of a way of life before it. It is just a part of me now.

 

And in honesty how I deal with it, how I have dealt with it taught me so much about empathy and respect and humour.  I truly believe it has made me a better person having to overcome the challenges time and time again.

 

Of course, there are times I sit on my bed trying to get dressed, slowly, in pain… or a moment where I am standing on the side-lines, watching my friends play fight , or that day when I have to call in sick... that the grief visits me again. It can knock me for six, right in the chest, and I can feel the tears about to sting my eyes and the lump in my throat. In that moment I am taken back to sitting on the bed at the age of 18 while my younger sister dressed me. It might be a few minutes or hours, but it feels like I have to go through the whole process again.

 

Whilst no amount of time will heal me, cure me or fix me... time makes it easier to cope with. As I grow older and wiser I definitely become more and more confident that, yes, for sure, I have Arthritis...

 

But Arthritis doesn’t have me! And it never will!

** A positive new chapter began in Gloria’s life, when on 4 April 2020 - in the height of the
pandemic - she and her partner, Aidan, welcomed a beautiful baby girl, Lily, to this world.

Please support our National Raffle 2020, so that we can continue to battle arthritis and support people living with this devastating condition, like Gloria – through Covid-19 and beyond.

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