‘What do you mean, How did I catch it? It’s not the common cold or an STD!’ I questioned my cousin. My sister and I, and our two cousins had met up in the village to go for a bag of chips and a catch up. I told them about my arthritis. Now that I knew what was wrong at least I could explain to people. It was easier than trying to explain that I felt sore a lot and for no apparent reason. Of course *Shane would ask something ridiculous. Although at least his reaction made me laugh, I mean I had to laugh at the fact that he thought this was something I could give him. That if he accidently touched me, or if I coughed close to him he might ‘catch’ it. It reminded me of when we were young children playing in the back yard and *Shane thought we would give him cooties because we were girls!
My parents had told my Nana, whose reaction was just as I had imagined.’ Oh the poor creator, oh god isn’t that awful. Well at least she wouldn’t be able to wear those shoes anymore. Those high heels are dangerous things!’ My aunts and uncles were very inquisitive about how I was feeling and if my medicine would help much, but in general they just expected me to get on with it. I liked that though if I’m honest. More than anything I wanted things to go back to normal and while they would never be exactly the same as they were at the very least they could be similar.
My younger sister was amazing! She gave me a huge hug when I told her and asked loads of questions so she would know how to help if I was having a bad day. There is only two years between us and we have always been close. At that time of my life I really needed her and she really came through. She had just the right amount of sympathy for me to make me feel like I wasn’t an idiot for feeling like my world had been turned upside down whilst having just the right amount of nonchalance to make me see that it wasn’t the end of my world… just a big change.
Telling my family wasn’t really what scared me. I knew they’d be supportive if I ever needed help. I knew that they’d understand if I needed to sit out on a family occasion or needed to walk a bit slower than everyone else. It was the dreaded fear that every 15 year old is possessed by at one point or another. What would my friends think, my class mates, the boy I liked at school? Would they think I was boring when I couldn’t jump that fence, or lazy when I’d come last in the fun run? (Which I walked)
My mam rang the school to talk my year head. She explained that packing my heavy books into my school bag and walking fast to my next class was sometimes going to prove quite difficult for me. That sometimes even writing would be hard as my fingers and wrists were very badly affected. I was in Transition Year at the time and my year head also happened to be my English teacher. I thought he was wonderful, I really respected him and still do and I loved my classes with him. Yet there was one day I had a fleeting moment of anger towards him that looking back was quite immature of me. He told everyone in the class all that my mam had said. That I had arthritis, that some of our more physical trips out would prove difficult if not impossible for me and that to make sure I didn’t need any help carrying my bag to my next class. He was just trying to help and make me feel as though my class mates would understand. I didn’t feel as though they would however. I felt like I was the ‘special’ kid who needed help. I thought they were all laughing, thinking, “this weirdo has a granny disease!” In hindsight, I don’t think any of them thought that. In fact most of them if I’m honest, didn’t care. I really shouldn’t have been so insecure, but at that age everything is, ‘a big deal’.
As I got older telling people wasn’t an issue. I didn’t exactly go shouting it from the roof tops or introducing myself as ‘Gloria, the girl with arthritis’ but I wasn’t so insecure about telling people. Most people are surprised and don’t realise that you can even be diagnosed with arthritis during childhood. I find friends are often very accommodating and don’t seem to mind opening bottles or even carrying a heavy shopping bag or two.
One encounter with a friend made me wonder though. *James was on my course for a year where we became quite friendly, about six months after the course was finished he began dating my sister *Kirsty. One night as we were all out in Limerick city, I happened to be quite sore, I couldn’t move my right arm without a lot of pain. I soldiered on and my sister was great. She carried my handbag, ordered any drinks I was having and carried them to my table. She also ordered my food and took it out of the bag, salted my chips and opened my curry sauce in Supermacs later that night. I was very grateful to her, I’d managed to have a good night out because of her and my friends help. However as we were leaving *Kirsty held out my jacket to help me put it on. I heard *James say something quietly to her. He asked her ‘Could she do anything herself?’ At first I was kind of taken back, nobody that night had complained about me needing help. I suddenly felt like a great burden. * Kirsty quickly answered him back telling him to get off my case, that I was sore and that arthritis can be very painful. He looked at her and me laughing… He honestly hadn’t known all this time that I had a condition of any sort other than a big mouth!
That got me thinking, my friends often carried most, if not all of the recording equipment when we went out filming, they helped carrying my shopping bags to the train station for me after college, they poured my tea from the pot at lunch and *James had seen all this and what? He hadn’t realised there was a reason they were doing this. ‘Oh god!’, I kept thinking, he just thought I was a lazy cow. He couldn’t have thought anything else, but that I was sickeningly lazy and made my friends do everything that required any sort of effort.
I have to say I was worried who else saw me as lazy and sometimes I still do. I often think is it better to be thought of as the girl who is being lazy or the one with the excuses?
I haven’t really decided yet……………….