A Physical Illness with Mental Health Implications

By: Julie Beausoleil

Wednesday, August 25th, 2021

A Physical Illness with Mental Health Implications

Juvenile Arthritis - a physical illness… at least that’s what everyone assumes when you hear about the condition.

Does it hurt to walk? Do you have morning stiffness? Have you noticed any swelling? How do the stairs feel on your knees? How long has this pain lasted? Does it affect any of your day-to-day activities?

While I’ve answered yes to all of these questions at some point in my life when my doctor questioned me, there’s a category of questions that remain unposed and unanswered in the JA reality: mental health implications.

The truth is, JA affects your mental health. Whether it’s from feeling different than other kids, not knowing anyone who understands your condition, feeling mentally drained from having to manage your pain 24/7, feeling hopeless and like nothing will improve, not being able to get out of bed in the morning, feeling fatigue as a symptom and beating yourself up about not being ‘productive’, missing school for appointments, or sitting out of activities because of your pain, JA will challenge your mental well being no matter what age you are diagnosed.

Oftentimes when I’m struggling with my mental health, I can’t tell whether my condition is the main cause of my feelings, whether it’s some other factor, whether it’s both, or whether my feelings are even real. I struggle with this a lot. I tell myself to suck it up, that I’m overexaggerating, that other people have it worse, and that I’m faking it. In these moments, I believe these statements whole-heartedly, although I know deep down that my feelings are legitimate. The hidden implications of mental health are seen in every step I take, every thought I have and every ounce of pain I feel.

Growing up I never allowed myself to associate JA with any mental health struggles - I didn’t know that was allowed. In my mind, this disease was only physical. How could I have known otherwise? In my experience in the JA world, mental health was never discussed by doctors, teachers, family and friends, etc, unless you bring it up, which I never did because as mentioned, I didn’t believe my feelings were founded. The main focus will always be managing and controlling your physical pain, which in itself is a big task, so it's very easy to neglect and forget about these mental implications. If ignored, mental wellbeing can start to affect your disease and often cause flare ups. If I am not strong mentally, I can’t be strong physically. If this relationship is never discussed, how can I strengthen myself mentally?

However, now I’m old enough to recognize the correlation between JA and the feelings it can incite. In doing so, I’ve been able to feel more at peace. This realization helped me acknowledge my feelings during difficult times, and more importantly allowed me to believe that they are valid.

My feelings are legitimate. It is ok that I experience them. I am allowed to have bad days. My mental health is affected and imperfect. Nothing is wrong with me.

These statements also apply to you too. I know they can be hard to believe, but they are true. If you are struggling with your mental health, please talk to someone about it and get help! Now, when I think about my condition, I think:

Juvenile Arthritis - a physical illness with mental health implications.