Throughout my 13 years living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I have been loved and supported by many people. Family have happily driven me from appointments after cortisone injections into my joints. Friends have made me food when my fingers have been too swollen to cook; and listened when I have needed to cry and talk about my pain.
I feel grateful everyday for these very special people in my life and know the dark days would have been much darker without them beside me.
There have been other very special people who I perhaps haven’t leant on as often, but who life would be very different without.
These are the women and men I have met who understand the apple coring pain of bone being eaten away by a destructive incurable disease; who know the almost unbearable pain of knocking an arthritic joint on a chair or table leg; and who I don’t have to define fatigue to, as they know the disabling tiredness all too well.
These people stand beside me and understand an important part of me, without me explaining.
It is these incredible people in my life who have found their way into my heart without me even realising. Together, we have supported each other in our health journeys and continue to do so.
There are many people living with chronic health conditions however (musculoskeletal or not), who do not have these valuable connections, support and friendship. People who either cope on their own because they don’t know who to turn to; or haven’t yet found their voice to ask for help.
I used to be one of these people. When my husband and I decided to start a family, I didn’t know anyone living with a chronic illness that had managed their health condition through pregnancy and parenthood. I felt incredibly alone and had so many questions. I yearned for someone I could ask questions of and share my fears with, who had been through the process before me and knew from experience the journey I was embarking on. Similarly, when I was diagnosed with RA at age 27, I faced the first frightening years largely alone, as I didnt know anyone else with RA.
Fortunately, it is easier now more than ever to connect with others in either face-to-face or online support groups. These groups are a fantastic way to connect with others, share ideas and gain support. However, not everyone is comfortable sharing his or her story in a public group, whether it be face-to-face or online.
Individualised one-on-one mentoring fills this gap. I have been supporting women and men in this way for over 10 years and am continuing this service through Giving Voice. Working with a mentor provides you with support, connection and guidance on your health journey, as well as practical strategies to use in your everyday life that empower you to be your very best health advocate.
Being mentored through your health challenges by someone who lives the same challenges as you is a vital piece in your network of support.