by REBECCA WYATT
My mum has been there for a lot of firsts in my life – first day of school, losing my first tooth, first bra, first pimple, first job – and at twenty-nine, I was hoping the next first I would share with her would be buying my first house, or having my first child. No, the first that we shared this week was a little different. You see, this week it was time to make a financially small, though significant purchase. My first walking stick.
We were browsing the range of sticks in the store, when the salesperson approached us. “Oh, you’re too young for those?” she said, addressing my mum. “Are you buying one for your mother for Mother’s Day?”
“No,” replied Mum, not batting an eyelid, “It’s for my 29-year old daughter.” The salesperson’s gaze shifted to me as she tried, quite unsuccessfully, to mask her horror and embarrassment. It was one of those moments where it feels as though the world is in slow motion, an uncomfortable silence where crickets chirped, pins dropped and if it were more than a moment, the ticking of the seconds on the clock above my head would’ve been like gunshots.
You see, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) almost eight years ago. I was a vivacious uni student who loved life, and all the adventures that came with it. It was during a uni lecture on RA that I sat with my friends, taking notes, and listening to the lecturer reel off the symptoms. Initially I took down the lecturer’s words, but after a few symptoms were mentioned – morning stiffness, joint swelling that affects both sides of the body, fatigue – I felt my heart sink. It took less than a month for me to be officially diagnosed, and start taking the cocktail of medications that were meant to minimise the damage from the auto-immune disease, while attempting to provide relief from the symptoms.
Rheumatoid Arthritis affects almost half a million Australians, with almost twice as many women affected as men. It causes chronic inflammation of the joints, but in addition can cause inflammation of the tissue around the joints, as well as in other organs in the body, including the eyes, mouth, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. The peak age group diagnosed with RA are women aged 18 to 35, which obliterates public perception that arthritis is a disease of “old people”. I have had a mix of good and bad days in the past eight years, but in recent times the disease has had the upper hand, and left me barely able to walk. It was for that reason that it came time to bite the bullet and buy my first mobility aid.