Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory illness that affects different joints in the body. Sometimes it’ll affect two, while in some cases it can reach all major joints such as the knees or elbows. In more extreme cases, RA can affect organs like the lungs or eyes. Needless to say, this isn’t the wear-and-tear arthritis that usually affects grandparents. It is an autoimmune illness where the immune system mistakes its own cells as foreign and wages a war against them, and it affects over a million people in the United States. As a student with RA and as the Assistant Secretary of Disability Affairs, I would like to introduce you to this illness and to the effects it can have for students on campus who are afflicted by it.
As you can imagine, having your body fighting itself the whole day is pretty exhausting. However, an important aspect of this disease is that it’s considered an “invisible illness.” While some people may have physical indicators of an illness, like joint deformities, many do not. This is something that takes place inside your body and can drown you out with fatigue, nausea, and excruciating joint pain. While a lot of times I don’t look sick, the reality is that my immune system is still wreaking havoc on my joints.
Fortunately, there are several treatment options for RA, and the earlier and more aggressive you are with treatment, the better your chances are at delaying permanent joint damage. Still, many people have misconceptions about arthritis. They suggest I take two Aleve or Tylenol, since that’s what major pharmaceutical commercials offer as relief. I’ll even get the gluten-free suggestion, or, “Just take a spoonful of raw apple cider vinegar every day!” The reality is that RA is a complex disease that can require the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, and even chemotherapy. It really depends on the doctor and patient. I always ask myself, why should I create awareness? I hate the idea of being pitied, and I don’t need sympathy. My goal is to help forge connections between people who are suffering with an illness like mine. I want to educate our campus community on what illness may or may not look like—and, most importantly, I want to stress the importance of being kind. You never know who is fighting a tough battle.