“I Owe My Success to Rheumatoid Arthritis”

Singer-songwriter Rain Perry busted every RA myth out there to prove the disease can’t keep you down.

Gina Roberts-Grey
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At age 22, musician Rain Perry thought life couldn’t get any better. Her burgeoning music career as a guitar-pickin’ singer-songwriter was taking off, and she seemed poised for super-stardom. But inexplicable pain in her hips, knees, wrists and hands sent Rain on a wild-goose chase through several doctors’ offices and multiple lab tests to find the source of her pain.

After a series of blood tests, X-rays and visits with a doctor who asked the right questions, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA)—and the girl who was never without her guitar suddenly had to hang up her strings.

Unsure of what to do, Rain abandoned her dream of a music career and began raising a family. But she soon returned to her first love when a friend asked her to join his band on backup vocals, leading her to write songs again. That’s when she discovered that having RA came with a silver lining: It made her a better musician and songwriter. Here, she tells how to live with RA on your own terms—and how to dump these myths:

Myth No. 1: People with RA have to give up their work and hobbies—and lower their expectations.
You might have to change your expectations, but don’t automatically assume you’ll have to give up what you love.

“The diagnosis of RA has led to an interesting sort of blessing,” says Rain, now 44. In fact, she says, if it hadn’t been for developing RA, she might never have recorded the hit song “Beautiful Tree,” which became the theme song for the CW Network show Life Unexpected.

“I had to learn how to really be a musician and communicate things like the sound I wanted on my albums. RA has given me the gift of learning to really listen to music in order to understand how it’s made—and that helped me fine-tune my sound. I’m a better writer and performer now because I’m not constrained by what I can play on the guitar, only by what I can write in my head.”

Myth No. 2: Only old people get RA.
Fact: RA can occur at any age, and it often begins in middle age, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“If I had a dollar for every time someone said, ‘Isn’t that an old person’s disease?’ I’d be a very rich woman,” laughs Rain. So to fight the stereotypes, she’s very open about discussing her condition. “I’ve found if I talk about it and educate people, they’re more at ease and understand that osteoarthritis is what usually occurs in older people. RA can affect anyone.”

April 2013