We have abilities and dreams that we aspire to just like anyone else… Annabel Townsend on how Versus Arthritis helps young people with arthritis

versus arthritis, annabel townsend, juvenile arthritis, arthritis true story, arthritis digest, arthritis website, arthritis blogWhen we arrive at the residential weekend, we are welcomed by the Versus Arthritis team who promise fun, adventure and community support. It is a place where us young people with arthritis (I am 14 years old) can come together and experience adventures and quality time with each other.

We talk openly about medication, health professionals and how to cope with school and home life. It’s a place where we can feel comfortable discussing our struggles, worries and disappointments, knowing that most people will understand where you’re coming from and relate on a personal level.  Medication is a big subject and we end up learning about each other’s types of arthritis and how other people take medication and how it helps and affects them.

The most exciting parts of the weekends are the activities… cycling, canoeing, abseiling, crawling through tunnels and working as a team through an assault course. These activities are fun! We may be feeling pain, but it’s ok to go at your own rate, ultimately growing as a person and developing confidence and resilience.

We finish our weekend with a creative activity, for example graffiti, stencilling a design or writing a word or two to take home and show our families.

On each residential weekend we reflect on our Journey of Change, where we consider our arthritis and choose what to improve. This could be a focus on diet by eating more fruit or a decision to speak more to a consultant in appointments. Our targets are photographed by a leader who keeps them safe and checks up on them the next time they see us or at the next residential in six months.

Leaders and volunteers help us through the weekend. They talk to us about how we are doing, not just in medical terms but in day-to-day emotional ways, which is a great support. Some of the volunteers have or had arthritis so talk to us about how they dealt with difficult things when they were our age.

We are more than young people with arthritis… we have abilities and dreams that we aspire to just like any other young person.

The residential courses have allowed me to meet new people and create friendships and bonds I will remember forever. They have given me the opportunity to do activities that I thought were out of my reach.

I have become more confident with my arthritis and changed my outlook so that arthritis is a part of me but not the whole of me. I know where to go to for help and how and when to talk about my arthritis with others. Most importantly, I now have a way to talk and express how I feel, letting me grow with my arthritis instead of me feeling like I was only allowed to grow in the shadow of its pain.

Click here to find out more about the residential courses run by Versus Arthritis, tel 0300 7900 400 or visit ypf@versusarthritis.org.