Penny's story

Penny’s rheumatoid arthritis caused her many years of pain and illness and led to low self-esteem. She now runs a successful image consultancy and tells us how she turned her life around.

‘Rheumatoid arthritis hit me at the age of 27 like a bolt from the blue. I was living and working in London and had a very successful career as a senior buyer for Marks & Spencer. The pain and debilitating nature of rheumatoid arthritis were not only a shock but something I felt ill equipped to deal with.

‘Fortunately, I had a fantastic GP who, together with a rheumatologist, helped me come to terms with the inevitable restrictions of the disease. They prescribed drugs that reduced the symptoms and enabled me to continue to work.

‘Two years after I was diagnosed, I had married and we’d had our first child. I decided to leave my job and become a full-time mum. We went on to have three more children and life was busy, fun and very family-centred.

‘Gradually, over time, my arthritis worsened and I became more disabled. I tried many different drug regimens but none were very effective. I became more depressed as it became clear that I was facing some severe restrictions on living my life the way I’d expected, and I continued on a downward spiral until, in 2003, I was put onto anti-TNF therapy and also underwent joint replacement surgery.

‘For the first time in years, the chronic, grinding pain lessened, and gradually I began to see light at the end of the tunnel. By this time, my self-confidence and self-esteem had hit rock bottom; I felt frumpy and old fashioned, and I decided that I would take a number of steps to try and lift myself.

‘One of those steps was to have a consultation with an image consultant. She came to my home and we spent the day together looking at the style, colour and the contents of my wardrobe.

'It was a fantastic day – literally life-changing. By the time she left, I’d been able to get back in touch with aspects of the person I’d been before my life had been overtaken by rheumatoid arthritis.

'Such was the effect on me and so great was the feeling of transformation that, over the next few years, I trained to become an image consultant myself, and I now have a successful business helping men and women learn how to enhance and feel confident about their personal image. I now work with individuals, corporate and media companies such as the BBC and Discovery Channel.’