“Having arthritis doesn’t stop you achieving your goals”

14 August 2020
Natasha dressed up, with her awards and out for tea with a friend.

Natasha was diagnosed with juvenile polyarticular idiopathic arthritis when she was one, so for as long as she can remember she’s been managing life with her condition.

At times she’s really struggled to accept it, but taking time out during university helped her to feel more positive about the future and her achievements. Natasha shares her journey so far with us.

My early years

Apparently, I was jumping on the sofa when I fell off and hit my knee on a stone fireplace. It swelled up, but the swelling didn’t go down, so my parents took me to the doctors, who told them then that I had arthritis.

It later spread to more joints, including the other knee, ankles, hands, and jaw, and I’ve had uveitis on and off from the age of two.

I remember very little of those early years, other than having to take methotrexate. I hated it, absolutely hated it.

I had it in liquid form and tablet form when I was little, but I would hide in my bedroom until my dad found me. My parents even tried hiding it in my food, and now I hate ice cream and yoghurt because of that.

Methotrexate stopped working for me in my teenage years. I had a huge flare up in my knee and even draining the joint and steroid injections didn’t help, so I was started on an anti-TNF called etanercept. I was about 14 or 15 by then and my uveitis flared up badly too for a while.

I started taking methotrexate injections alongside etanercept, which were a lot better because I didn’t feel or taste it, but I didn’t like the side effects.

Once the anti-TNF started working, I trialed coming off methotrexate, and eventually my doctor said it was fine for me to stop taking it. I’ve been managing on just anti-TNF since then and I’ve been fine. I’m on Tocilizumab now and my condition is well managed.

At school I wanted to be like other children

At primary school, I had a woman who came everywhere with me. She would help me in class and with getting around school and would make sure I wasn’t doing any contact sports and other activities that were seen as too physical.

I would use a wheelchair when I had bad flare ups, and I used to hate it. Seeing other kids walking around fine, I thought ‘how come they are able to walk, and I can’t?’

Now I’m older, I don’t mind having to use crutches or a wheelchair. I never experienced bullying or issues with other children at school though. Friends would help me out by wheeling me around and people would sit with me at lunch if I had to stay inside.

The teachers were supportive too. They would bring up arthritis in class and we would discuss it openly, helping me to explain it to my classmates, which sparked questions and conversation.

I got very depressed about my arthritis in my teenage years

Secondary school was a lot harder. I stayed inside a lot and would sit alone and read in the library. People didn’t understand the nature of my condition – how you can be fine one day, and not the next.

I had friends that supported me, and the school helped me with extra support like a laptop for exams, and making sure I was safe if there was ever infection brought into the school. But looking back now, from the ages of about 14 to 19 I was always really depressed.

I think it was triggered by my biggest flare up yet. It was then that I realised what arthritis actually was, it wasn’t just the aches and pains I’d remembered as a kid. And it would always come up in conversation or in my head as the source for why I was feeling sad.

Taking time out at university turned things around

Everything became too much during the start of my second year at uni. My depression reached an all-time low, so I was advised to take some time out and I went home to live with my family in Dorset.

I had some therapy whilst I was at home. This really helped me, and I went back to university the following year to continue my degree.

I graduated this year in Marine Biology and will be starting a Masters in September!

Learning to adapt to what works for you is important

I think there’s a big perception that because you have arthritis, you can’t do anything, that you are physically unable to. But there are lots of people that still do sports and physical activities with arthritis.

Where I grew up, we have annual carnivals which feature parades of people and carts all dressed up, and I used to love taken part in these celebrations. The outfits meant I was carrying a lot of weight on my back (see photo!), but I could still do this despite my arthritis.

I would suffer a bit the next day, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

Meeting others with arthritis helped me open up and I want to share my experiences

I’ve become so much more comfortable speaking about my arthritis since having therapy. If somebody so much as mentioned it to me at secondary school, I would have left the room in tears.

I didn’t know a single other young person with arthritis growing up. The only people I could talk to with similar experiences were other children on immunosuppressants.

Now I’ve become more interested in learning about my condition and meeting others. I met some people through NRAS after I signed up for a membership with them and even put myself forward to speak at an event for parents and children with arthritis.

I spoke all about the positive things and the achievements I’ve made, it was amazing. I’ve since joined the Versus Arthritis young person’s advisory panel and it’s been great working with other young people, all with different experiences of arthritis.

Arthritis isn’t all doom and gloom; you can still live a normal life and achieve the things you want to achieve. I still went to uni, and I’m able to do lots of the things I love, regardless of my condition.

Our services

If you or a family member under the age of 25 has arthritis, our Young People and Families service is here to support.

Our service offers advice on how to live well with arthritis, medication and potential treatments, as well as creating a safe space to ask questions, receive information and develop support networks.

Our face-to-face services have changed during COVID-19, but you can find out more about what’s going on via your local Young People and Family service.

We’re here whenever you need us.

If you’re feeling isolated from family and friends during these uncertain times, we’re here for you.