Maria Isabella was full of energy and passionate about running when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at the age of 22. She had just embarked on an exciting career as an aircraft maintenance engineer. When she began to experience pain in her foot and then her knees, she passed it off as a running injury, but the symptoms worsened rapidly and within a matter of months, her mobility was so compromised she couldn’t bathe or use the bathroom without assistance. Intense pain stopped her from sleeping and drained her emotionally. She was physically exhausted.
At the time Maria Isabella was reeling from the news she had a debilitating chronic disease, one place she found support was the Arthritis Society. She was referred to a rehabilitation program at a centre in Montreal. Her drug treatment program proved difficult. There were many setbacks along the way, but Maria Isabella persevered until her symptoms were being managed well enough for her to contemplate a new direction in life. Nothing about it was easy. Learning she would have to abandon a career she loved came as a shock and it left her frightened and disillusioned. She remembers thinking, “I will have to start all over again.”
It was disheartening to be unemployed and to find so many doors closed as a result of her physical limitations. Ongoing pain, fatigue, and side effects from the medications meant that she could only manage a short commute to work, was unable to work mornings, and would have to take time off when symptoms flared up.
In time, Maria Isabella retrained as a secretarial administrator and found a job with the School of Physical Therapy. Thanks to constant support from her partner and her parents, she found a way to reinvent herself. She also felt grateful that her personal relationships were strengthened as a result of her struggle with arthritis, and happy that she took charge of her life.
Nevertheless, there are days when she feels frustrated and dispirited. “I have to calculate my energy to do the essentials. There are still many tasks I no longer do,” says Maria Isabella. RA may not be fatal, but it is a serious condition that takes an enormous toll on people’s lives; in the case of someone diagnosed at a young age like Maria Isabella, that burden requires a lifetime of courage and resilience.