Let’s continue on the topic of challenging conversations we sometimes find ourselves in.
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My best-friend, Jamie Allspaw, and I grew up across the street from each other. We did not go to the same school, but quickly became inseparable by the second-grade over our mutual love for jump rope, the outdoors and Tamagotchis.
I was probably 11-years-old, or so, when Jamie’s mother (a nurse) interrupted one of our afternoon hangouts to tell Jamie it was time to take her shot.
In my childhood brain I was slightly concerned when Jamie hopped up on the kitchen counter like it was just a normal day, even though her mom was two feet away preparing a syringe—needles were never my thing.
I learned that day that my best friend had Rheumatoid Arthritis.
It’s not something she was born with, actually, though, up until I called her yesterday, I am not sure I ever knew that. Doctors still aren’t completely sure what caused her to develop the condition—as neither of her parents, nor her younger sister suffer from it.
Jamie’s arthritis is not something we ever talked too much about after that day. For most people, when they hear the word ‘arthritis,’ their brain generates a photo of an old man or woman who aches all day. That’s not what Jamie was.
This was my lanky friend who lived across the street, played volleyball and cheerleading, incessantly begged me to go on bike rides, would drop anything to walk to the creek, go see a movie—she was nonstop. It didn’t add up; at least, not then.
As we got older, Jamie became more comfortable talking to me about the way her RA impacted her life—a shot once a week to keep inflammation controlled, flare-ups in her knees or hips and close attention to diet and nutrition.
When we were in high school, she went vegan and it dramatically changed the way she felt, she said. Even more so when the medicine she’d been on for 18-years stopped working and they were left experimenting with new prescriptions.
Oddly enough, when I asked her now what people have done in the past to make her feel better about her RA, she said she always greatly appreciates when someone can understand why she eats the way she does.
“I know I am intense about veganism,” she said. “But it means a lot to me when people actually ask me why I eat what I eat, and how it impacts my personal life.”
When you think about arthritis, there aren’t really a lot of questions that come to mind—at least, that is what Jamie has said.
“You know, you tell most people and they just kind of look you up and down and say, ‘really?’ Because they’re checking for physical signs of an internal condition.”
At that point in the conversation, she said, she usually takes it upon herself to go ahead and fill in the rest of the details.
“When you have a condition that doesn’t really ‘represent’ you or your age group, there aren’t many questions I get asked other than the occasional ‘what does it feel like?’”
To which case she responds accordingly because, it just depends.
Through over 10 years of friendship, I have seen Jamie on her good days, her great days and her bad days—which, honestly, she still makes look pretty good.
There have been instances where I might have an ache or a pain, and she hands me an over-the-counter medicine or ointment I have never seen before. They are geared toward arthritis, but have worked for me too. These occurrences have opened the door for us to have more conversations about when she would use something like that, and why. The older she gets, the more comfortable she is sharing information like this with her peers, she said.
“Honestly, Zoey,” she said, laughing. “The only time someone has hurt my feelings about my arthritis is my own sister I don’t even care because her opinion is whatever.”
We were both laughing on the phone at this point when I asked her to elaborate; having never heard this story.
“It was right when Covid first started,” she said. “We were watching the news and my mom was scared because we didn’t know how it would affect me. Then Chrissy says, ‘well you have arthritis so don’t get your hopes up.”
We were both cracking up at this point. “Oh yeah, my mom started crying. It was a whole thing,” she said. “But that’s the point, is only someone in my family, or that close to me, even has the room to make fun of the arthritis with me; otherwise, you’re just an asshole.”
She elaborated, saying that by far the most challenging part about living with arthritis has been having to suck it up when she is in pain. Reflecting back on high school volleyball tryouts when her wrists were killing her and the coach “knew she had 10 more push-ups in her.”
“Even if I really don’t have it in me, it’s better to push through it than have to stop and tell that person I have RA, make them feel bad, and then, ultimately, look weak.”
Rather than using her arthritis as a crutch, she has flipped it upside down to make it even more of a motivator for her—largely contributing to her motivation to work as a nurse. I have found that in conversation about chronic illnesses or conditions, it is best to ask actual questions about the disease rather than the person.
Jamie reiterated this by saying one of her biggest complaints about RA coming up in conversation on a date, is that the person she is out with will think of her as weak, or that it could impact future children.
“I don’t want the RA to define me,” she said. “So, I like it when people ask questions about it rather than me; because I am healthy despite the condition.”
That wraps up Thursday’s article. Be sure to check The Learning Curve this Sunday, January 30th for an exciting announcement! (Also check @zoey_fields on Instagram and Facebook).
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