A few months ago, a fellow arthritis advocate and writer published her passion project, a book of essays called Keeping It Real with Arthritis. As a writer and a patient advocate with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I was honored to be asked to review this book. I’ve done a couple of book reviews in the past, but this book is a little bit different. I won’t be discussing plot, characters, story structure or use of language. Many of the essays in this book are not written by professional writers – they are raw and honest accounts of people’s experience living with all types of inflammatory arthritis and autoimmune disease.
Why do we write books about chronic illness? Books like this are written to educate, support and encourage people to live their best lives in the face of chronic illness. They are written to connect to community and to give a voice to patients and caregivers living with and treating these conditions. They raise awareness and show us just what it takes to live with a chronic condition that has no cure.
In this book we hear from both patients, caregivers, and medical professionals. The book is split into categories that reflect all aspects of life with arthritis, making it easy for readers to find topics that are relevant to them. You don’t have to read this book in any particular order – mental health, social life, relationships, work, finances, career – each section provides the reader with a snapshot of each writer’s experience with one or more of these things.
Many of the voices in this book face more than one chronic condition, but they all give us a glimpse into how these conditions affect their lives and how they learned to adapt and move forward. It’s interesting to learn that the same disease does not manifest the same way in each person. The onset of symptoms, treatment and outcome are as individual as the snowflake, and it might take time to figure out how to control and treat the disease. A lot of these conditions fall under the umbrella of “an invisible illness” because in most people you can’t see the physical illness. Writing about their experience makes them visible and helps us understand how we can support loved ones living with chronic illness.
This book is a reminder that arthritis can strike anyone at any time at any age. In fact, the book opens with powerful stories of children living with JIA (Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis). Imagine battling disease, pain, and fatigue, and being on medication throughout your childhood. These stories not only provide insight into what a child’s life looks like with JIA, but we hear from the parents and caregivers of these children. What does it feel like to watch your loved ones suffer and how can we show up for them?
Keeping It Real with Arthritis is a raw look not only at the challenges people with inflammatory arthritis face but their victories and accomplishments. Having a chronic illness is not the end of life, it’s simply the kaleidoscope of change we will all weather someday. This book shows us how to find beauty and joy in any moment. Keeping It Real with Arthritis is filled with heart, hope and above all, humanity. Maybe this book is the light you need in those dark moments.
Creator: Effie Koliopoulos Illustrated by: Loren Mendoza
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.