Living with arthritis in your twenties
When 22-year-old Anna Weigt-Bienzle noticed that her left wrist was swollen, she never thought it would be the first sign of a painful and incurable chronic disorder.
“I did not suspect it was arthritis,” she says.
There’s a common misconception that arthritis is an ailment that only affects the elderly. However, more than half of the 4.6 million Canadians with arthritis are under the age of 65. In fact, many types of arthritis can affect a person at any age.
Weigt-Bienzle was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) just after graduating university and landing her first post-grad job. “I had no intention of letting anything slow me down,” she says, noting how she used to push herself hard and didn’t take the rest she knew her body needed.
People with RA often experience a reduced range of motion due to severe pain and swelling in their joints. “It’s basically a symmetrical disease,” Weigt-Bienzle explains. This means that when she experiences inflammation in one part of her body – like her right knee – she’ll eventually feel the same stiffness and discomfort on her left knee, too.
Although there’s no cure for RA, she’s found ways to help manage the inflammation she gets in her hands, wrists, hips, shoulders, knees and ankles.
For starters, Weigt-Bienzle tries hard to maintain a healthy diet. Each day, she also strives to do at least one hour of physical activity, like walking or weight training. “The more active you are, the better it is for you (if you have arthritis),” she says. “Staying stagnant is not in our best interest.”
In the process of trying to keep fit, Weigt-Bienzle fell in love with Moksha yoga. “It’s been a huge help for me,” she says. Practicing yoga three to four times a week has helped increase her mobility, flexibility and strength.
Most importantly, time on the mat has allowed Weigt-Bienzle to better understand her body’s limitations: “Some days are good and some days aren’t as good. Some days I can do a downward dog, other days I have to modify.”
This awareness has helped Weigt-Bienzle to accept her arthritis, which she admits has been a long personal journey. “When you’re first diagnosed, you’re probably very upset,” she says. “Forgiving your body is a crucial first step.”
Five years after being diagnosed with RA, Weigt-Bienzle says that she’s finally in a good place when it comes to managing her chronic illness. Juggling her arthritis, a full social life and her career as a PR specialist isn’t always easy – which is why it helps to connect with others who are living with arthritis.
“You don’t have to explain it – you just know the other person gets it.”
For this reason, Weigt-Bienzle will be sharing more of her story as a Toronto ambassador in The Walk to Fight Arthritis on June 5th. Learn more about The Walk to Fight Arthritis at walktofightarthritis.ca