Young adults with juvenile arthritis (JA) are subject to the same anxieties and concerns as young people everywhere. They seek fulfillment, happiness, loving relationships and a rewarding career.
It’s a cruel quirk of nature than something like JA can be most active in the body at a time when the psyche is at its most vulnerable. Through adolescence and into early adulthood we’re intensely conscious of what others think of us.
For most young people, being invisible would be the ideal state, which is why they wear the same clothes. So, to have difficulty walking properly or to have to wear a brace can be a very stressful experience.
The self-doubt and embarrassment is compounded when you fancy someone. The knowledge that countless young people are going through the same crisis as you doesn’t help at all. Just because you don’t look like Brad Pitt or Jennifer Aniston doesn’t mean you’re destined to be alone.
Firstly, be assured that you probably don’t stand out from the crowd nearly as much as you imagine. Wearing an arm brace or a cast will go unnoticed in a queue of cinemagoers on a Saturday night.
Secondly, if you’re interesting, don’t take yourself too seriously and try to be a good listener, the fact that you have a joint illness is unlikely to prevent you getting to know someone else interesting. It’ll help if you find a group of people that have similar interests to you, but don’t limit yourself to that.
Join a local club (there are clubs for people with an interest in everything from photography to chess, model aircraft, needlepoint, gardening and yoga), charity organisation and church group. Often you may know that it’s not for you the moment you walk in, but spending one polite but excruciating evening in the company of geeks is better than spending the rest of your life watching soapies.
Avoid the temptation to become too absorbed in anything. You may know every detail of every Star Wars movie every made, but if you get labelled as “that Star Wars geek,” you might be seen as being difficult to socialise with, even if you’re actually a very balanced person.
Also, don’t feel you have to limit yourself to one group out of loyalty. Just because the rest of your bible study group doesn’t have an interest in learning to fly a glider doesn’t mean you can’t at least go for a spin with the folks from the flying club.
Many social clubs welcome visitors, especially those who keep appointments and pay their way.
While you may feel lonely, remember that your early adult years are also a vital time for studying. A couple of years of steady, diligent work could earn you a qualification that will help you find a fulfilling career. It’s easier – even desirable, to be a single twenty-something earning a salary than to be a single part-time student who’s desperate for a relationship – any relationship.
Just because your Matric class peers are married and raising a family doesn’t mean you have to be doing the same. Occupy yourself with a broad range of interests, meet a variety of people and be willing to be turned down occasionally. Things will work out.