Why arthritis warriors will be particularly good at dealing with the coronavirus crisis

by Izzie Clough

If I hear one more well-meaning person saying: “don’t worry coronavirus only kills the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions!” I might actually explode.

As young people with arthritis, because we don’t ‘look’ vulnerable, it’s up to us to keep ourselves safe. Unfortunately, that can make running any kind of errand extremely stressful. The last few times I’ve been to a shop I’ve felt like I was playing a horribly realistic game of Pacman around the aisles.

Last week, I had to leap two metres back at the pharmacy. I was waiting for the man in front of me to finish paying. He was clearly very elderly, chatting to the pharmacist about his great-grandson’s birthday. I was entertaining myself, at a safe distance, by reading the cards on the rack next to me.

Suddenly the man announced he needed an envelope and started towards me at an impressive speed for someone who could easily be in his nineties. Luckily there was no one behind me in the queue, so when I instinctively jumped back it wasn’t into another unsuspecting pensioner.

Leaving the shop, I started to think about this incident. The man fitted the description of an ‘at risk’ person so perfectly that moving two metres away from him had been completely automatic. Then I wondered if anyone would have thought to jump back to protect me, and I realised that, as a baby-faced 22-year-old, they probably wouldn’t.

I imagine this is something a lot of young people with chronic conditions can relate to. We are constantly bombarded with scary news stories which almost invariably refer to people like us – with “underlying health conditions”.

It’s completely normal to feel scared, but I also believe that those of us with chronic conditions like arthritis may actually be better at dealing with the pandemic than most other people.

Here’s why…

We’re used to dodging infections

When you’re immunosuppressed, it sometimes feels like you’ve become a magnet for germs. Worse, when you catch an infection, it can mean that you have to skip doses of your medication, which makes you more likely to have a flare.

Because of that, the worry about germs isn’t exactly new to us. Unlike some people at the beginning of the crisis, we don’t assume that we’re immune to everything, so it wasn’t too difficult to accept that stopping the spread of coronavirus was a pretty good idea.

Actually, it’s quite nice that people are now putting effort into not giving their germs to us. Can we keep that going once this is all over please?!

We know how to keep ourselves occupied when we’re stuck in the house

Whether because of pain, fatigue, or a mixture of both, most people with arthritis know what it is to be stuck at home or to have to cancel plans you were really excited for because of an illness.

Unfortunately, that also means we know how much it sucks. However, as a result, lots of people with chronic conditions already have indoor hobbies to turn to in times like these.

The following are just some of the activities that the lovely people of Arthur’s Place Social have been doing from home (take a deep breath): karate, calligraphy, knitting, embroidery, baking, home-schooling, reading, singing, piano, trumpet, drawing, yoga, meditation, learning Welsh, writing books, painting, gardening, online birthday parties and reading up about their condition.

Also, indoor work outs? Hang on, I’ll get my physiotherapy guides out…

We know how to wait out a storm

Don’t get me wrong, it still sucks.

Arthritis can be very unpredictable, so when I am feeling well all I want to do is get out there and make the most of it. Having to cancel plans and miss out on experiences (some of which I’d already missed out on before because of illness!) can be devastating. And if you are in flare, then you may be cut off from your normal coping mechanisms and support circles.

Yet it’s also because of this lack of predictability that those of us with chronic illnesses know
how to wait out the storm. We’re used to dealing with change and uncertainty to do with health.

Personally, over the past few weeks I’ve felt a lot more concerned about other people’s health and general sanity than my own. I’m not claiming to be a saint, it’s just that the possibility of illness is something that I’m used to worrying about. The idea of accidentally infecting my friend’s aunt’s elderly neighbour, on the other hand, is less familiar territory.

So yes, most of us haven’t experienced a global pandemic before. But in terms of sitting tight and waiting for an illness to ease off, this is not our first rodeo. The fact that we already have an amazing online community shows that we’re more prepared than we realise.

Of course, we absolutely do have the right to feel frustrated, isolated and anxious at the moment – everybody does. The important thing is that we stick together as a community, reach out to one another (virtually, obvs) and help each other to stay as safe and sane as we can.

It’s not going to be easy, but we know that we’re strong, patient and resilient. We defy our illnesses by adapting and getting through every day: coronavirus? It’s got nothing on us.

Meet Izzie and other friendly folk on Arthur’s Place Social, our Facebook Group

(Any opinions expressed in Izzie’s blog are not necessarily shared by Arthur’s Place. Nothing that you read in Izzie’s blog constitutes medical advice.)

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