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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 June 2007, 05:52 GMT 06:52 UK
Living with arthritis
Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson has had rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 22
As part of our series into chronic conditions across Wales, the BBC news website profiles life with arthritis.

About 9m people of all different ages in the UK have one of the 200 forms of arthritis - an inflammation of the joints.

Many have severe pain every day, and often experience a loss of mobility and extreme fatigue.

Peter Johnson, 48, from Llanarth in Ceredigion, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when he was 22.

"Rheumatoid is an inflammatory disease of the joints, which can lead to joint damage," he explained.

"For me, it is the inflammation that is the most painful - it flares up - it is not a constant pain and occurs for different joints at different times.

"When I was young, I used to get hugely swollen knees then it spread to my feet, shoulders, elbows, neck, jaw - all swelling, with pain and heat.

At first I could continue working, but then I had to leave jobs as the illness was getting worse

"At first I could continue working, but then I had to leave jobs as the illness was getting worse. I was out of work for 10 years.

"At that time, I was single and living on my own in a cold flat - there was an income problem."

He said being diagnosed had changed things as it meant he could get some treatment, through an exercise programme and physiotherapy.

But he said there was no social support, which meant he struggled to deal with the condition.

'Stared at'

"I needed a stick in my 20s, once I could face using it," he said.

"It marks you out and sometimes I didn't use it when I should have, because I didn't want to be stared at.

"People think arthritis is an older person's condition and are constantly quizzing you about it, which has a major impact when you are young.

"I still get that now, but I don't care any more."

Mr Johnson said he had had to rediscover "a whole bunch of interests" because of his arthritis.

"My main past-times were cycling and fell-walking and both of those had to go," he said.

"It was very depressing and makes you feel there is nothing left. Feeling valuable is important and this can make you feel like you're not."

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson speaking at an Arthritis Care volunteer event

He said meeting other people with arthritis had helped him with the condition's social impact.

"Chatting it through is very liberating, and there were people just like me - I was not treated like a specimen," he said.

"I have now picked up new hobbies, like IT and computers and reading."

After struggling with the condition in his 20s, Mr Johnson's arthritis went into remission when he was in his 30s and he met Gloria, who would become his wife, which gave him "more of a motivation to do something" about the disease.

He said he started thinking about his personal experiences and subjects like disability access, and started doing some volunteer work.

"You start to realise the issues and there was a drive not to let that happen to other people," he said.

Mentally, it's not as bad as when I was in my 20s as I can handle it most days - I can put it in its place.

"It gave me value again and helped me realise that paid work was an option again."

However, the arthritis returned when he reached his 40s and he said he was currently seeing a rheumatologist in Pembrokeshire and had begun taking a new drug treatment.

"Now my hips have worn out and I have problems with my wrists and elbows," he said.

"But mentally, it's not as bad as when I was in my 20s as I can handle it most days - I can put it in its place."

And he said it had not affected his relationship as it had been "a known factor" when he and his wife had married.

Mr Johnson now works for Arthritis Care, which gives him the flexibility to work from home if he needs to because of his condition and he advises anyone who is diagnosed with arthritis to be "challenging with healthcare professionals".

"Be very clear on what you want to know and get information from sources that you trust," he said.

"Meet other people and talk to them and ask the awkward questions to your doctor."


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