The Positive Side of Living With Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis doesn’t have to put a damper on your life—sometimes the greatest benefits come at the most unexpected times. Read on for uplifting stories from people living with arthritis.

Kristina Mastrocola
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For every one of the 50 million Americans living with arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA), there’s a story of perseverance. Yet it often comes with an unexpected benefit, a silver lining that makes life more worthwhile. The proof? These uplifting anecdotes shared by everyday folks (from businesspeople to teachers to writers) living with RA and other rheumatic conditions.

“I discovered puppy love”
For medical transcriptionist Bert Stenzel, 55, of Waseca, MN, the biggest silver lining of having RA has a name: “Buddy, my crazy, super-smart Jack Russell terrier,” she says. “I didn’t have a dog before being diagnosed with arthritis three years ago, and he’s really helped me get the exercise I need.” Indeed, studies show dog owners tend to be more fit than poochless people, and Bert is one more example of how pets are often the best personal trainers. “Walking him has been so good for my arthritis; he even joins me on the treadmill!”

“I’m more outspoken because of my RA”
“A few years ago, I was at Disneyland and had to rent a scooter because of my RA,” says 37-year-old grad student Jeanine Yutani of Los Angeles. “When I became uncomfortable and had to get up and walk, a man I was in line with for a ride accused me of being thoughtless—that I didn’t really need the scooter. Well, as we waited for the ride, he got a 20-minute lecture on arthritis. He started asking questions and was interested in learning more; and on the ride, he actually asked to sit next to me!” This experience exemplifies how RA has changed Jeanine. “It’s taught me not to be self-conscious about anything—if I have to, say, upgrade from coach to business class because I need more leg room, that’s okay with me; I don’t feel guilty about stuff like that anymore.”

“I’m skinny”
The dietary changes Houston-based geophysicist Lawrence Wood, 74, has had to make to keep his gout under control have led to an unexpected benefit: “I’ve lost 70 pounds!” How? “I stopped eating red meat and cut down on alcohol because it depletes the vitamin B that helps keep uric acid in check,” he explains. “Having to make those simple changes because of my gout has made everything in my life better.”

“My dream career became a reality”
When Baltimore-based mystery writer (her latest is Par for the Course) and book reviewer Jennifer Vido, 43, was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at age 8, she used to take 16 aspirin a day for the pain. Fortunately, arthritis treatments have come a long way, and so has she: “I became a French teacher, had two children and fully intended to retire at 65,” she says. “But that just wasn’t God’s plan for me. Teaching was too hard on my body—I had to change gears and decided to follow my dream of becoming a writer. It’s something I may not have pursued if not for the arthritis. Now, when I have a bad day, it’s okay; I can just stay in my pajamas and write.”

“I stopped beating myself up and started writing poetry”
Robena Richardson, 37, has had bullous lupus since 2001. And while at one point the disease altered the way she looked at herself—“I lost nails and my hair began to fall out”—it also changed the way she looks at life: “I learned to stop basing my accomplishments on my appearance,” says the Tampa, FL, resident. “Lupus forced me to look within myself and find my voice. I started to write poetry as a way to cope with depression, and it made me feel incredible. And now I’m preparing for open mic night at my local bar to share my poetry with my community.”

“Nothing passes me by now”

“A few years ago, I had such severe osteoarthritis (OA) in my shoulder, I couldn’t even reach out to adjust the car radio,” reveals Memphis businessman Tom Webb, age 60. “The doctors had to basically throw my joints in a bucket and rebuild my shoulder with titanium.” What’s all this taught him? “To appreciate everything I have and to be more ‘present’ in life; I have always been an avid runner, but now when I run, I leave my iPod at home so I can really be in the moment, enjoying nature.”

April 2013