“I stopped exercising after my diagnosis. I was afraid I would fall down in public and not be able to get up.”

Three different images of May Baxter-Thornton with friends.

May Baxter-Thornton was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her knees at the age of 37.

Now at 44, the condition affects her hips and lower spine and last year, May was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. May recalls how doctors told her that it was just a touch of arthritis and that she was too young for the condition to be severe. Yet, there have been periods where she has struggled to care for herself and needed help.

May says that her diagnosis knocked her confidence, as she felt unable to take part in the physical activities she loved.

“I try not to dwell on what arthritis has stolen from me, but it does affect you as a person.”

“I stopped exercising for a while because I was afraid I would fall down in public and not be able to get up. Even the thought of taking my dog for a walk caused me anxiety. I was worried that he would pull on the lead and I would lose control.”

May adds: “I try not to dwell on what arthritis has stolen from me, but it does affect you as a person. It can be hard to make plans when you’re living with a long-term condition.

“The fatigue drains you of all your energy and it’s depressing when you need to cancel plans because you can’t get out of bed.”

Managing the pain and supporting others

May currently manages her condition with painkillers and by keeping as active as possible: “I’ve found that with the right tools and support, you can do anything you want to do. It took me a while to come around to that way of thinking, but you can make yourself feel better.

May started working at Versus Arthritis in 2017 and currently supports people across South Wales with arthritis, through the charity’s Living Well with Arthritis programme.

“Sometimes it’s easier to isolate yourself, when you’re scared of being in pain in public. I understand that it’s not a great conversation starter and that you might not want to bring people down or burden them – especially when they don’t understand.

“I think it’s important to be open with the people close to you. Then it encourages them to be open and honest.

“During the group sessions, I always tell people that bottling up your feelings never help. Arthritis is not something you can turn on and off – it’s something you have to learn to live with and manage as best you can.

“Remember, you are not alone, there are others with the condition or healthcare professionals that you can speak to, that might be able to help.”

Get the support you need

If you’d like to talk someone about your arthritis and how it’s making feel, please don’t suffer in silence. Talking can really help. You can call our free helpline on 0800 5200 520. We also run local support groups and services for people of all ages. Find the nearest one to you.