I remember the first time The American Association of Retired People sent me a personalized membership card. I was 16. I remember thinking “Why, do they think I’m old?” Oh yes, I have Arthritis. Initially, I was slightly offended. It’s enough that I am usually the youngest in my rhuematologist office and always the youngest at the glaucoma specialist office, but now they think I’m old enough to join the AARP! However, each year a new AARP card would arrive in the mail. I often thought about trying to join, they do offer great discounts and the membership often comes with a free rolling travel cooler. SCORE!
As humorous as this clerical error often is, it is still a reminder of the stigma that Arthritis is an “old person’s disease.” There are many organizations and people trying to raise awareness that Kids Get Arthritis Too , but there is still a long way to go. On the other hand, Arthritis does in fact often make me feel like I am old enough for the AARP and often I can relate to their aches and pains more than I can relate to my peers running frequent 5k’s. I wake up stiff, achy and sore. My knees creak and hurt as I walk down stairs. I have used a wheelchair in my past. I have already had two cataract surgeries and I have ongoing glaucoma eye disease. I have used reading glasses since I was 15 years old.
So here I am living with the body of an AARP member but navigating life as a late 20 year old. This desire to want to live out my youth carefree and energetically, but still navigate the challenges of my Arthritis will consistently be something I struggle with. Fortunately, I no longer desire to stay up to 3 am, eat macaroni and cheese for every meal, or spend 4 hours standing in bars only to walk miles home, as I once did in college, and my body thanks me for it. However, I am also no where near ready to sign up for an AARP membership. I have a lot more “youth” to enjoy, regardless of what my Arthritis or the Association of Retired People think about it!