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How Exercising Empowers Me as Someone with Arthritis

Exercising once felt like a mountain that I thought I couldn’t climb. But now, as I did as a kid, I can’t wait to ride my bike.

As a kid, my bike was my prized possession.

It was a tiny, magenta bike, with glittery streamers, that I tended to pull apart because it was irresistible not to. I rode fast around the pool in my backyard, flying over deep-rooted tree trunks and ducking under branches. My backyard wasn’t “ideal” riding conditions (and now realizing that most bikes are made for paved roads), but it was sufficient. And I loved it.

I rode my bike daily. At school, I couldn’t wait to run home and hop on my bike. I would daydream about riding my bike. I was enrolled in after-school programs most of my school life, so my bike-riding time was pretty limited. Yet, when my mom dropped me off at home, I’d run outside and ride until the sun set and the fireflies came out. (My fondest memory is riding my bike under a fading pink-orange sky, feeling free, and singing Jesse McCartney’s “Get Your Shine On.” That song was on constant rotation and hyped me up the most.)

The day I was too tall for my bike—which was probably the only time I was ever too tall for something—was a disheartening day. But the tire had been flat for so long that it was impossible to ride. My streamer handlebars were practically bare. The chain had rusted from lack of maintenance. It was time to let my bike go.

For about ten years, I didn’t own a bike. The last time I rode a bike was on a family vacation around 2011. All through high school and college, while most friends had bikes and cars, I only had my legs. Back then, I was of able body to walk long distances in the scorching heat, relatively unaffected. A little tired, yes. But the next day, I could bounce back with no issue.

However, I quickly learned not to take my able body for granted.

In late 2017, and into 2018, I became extremely fatigued. I couldn’t handle the heat like I used to. I kept suffering from these mysterious rashes that no creams could tame. I was having extreme joint pain. At the time, I was so focused on trying to keep my head above water financially that I abandoned my health. The summer of 2018 was an incredibly dark time. I lived in an apartment with three strangers. Rent was over a thousand dollars a month. But I worked long hours at a job that only paid $8 an hour. I dug into emergency funds and exhausted my school bank account to pay for fast food meals and my rent. The job I worked at was also not accommodating for disabilities, so I forced myself to quit. I looked for work again, took on another sales position, and while I was making a little more, I still could not find a workplace that wasn’t incredibly taxing on my body. Just before the school year began, I was let go from that job. I took on another job working for my college. But yet again, the job was too taxing. I ended 2018 with my bank accounts in the negatives and in a consuming depression.

With not being able to work and struggling to come with a new diagnosis of having psoriatic arthritis, the winter of 2018 and the beginning of 2019 was a grueling time. I struggled with my confidence in myself, as someone with a disability. I felt useless and pondered over how I may never be able to do the things that I loved, like riding my bike.

But in the spring of this year, there was a breakthrough.

I moved away from the place that was negatively affecting my mental health. I made a new group of friends. I turned to art therapy to help me cope. I started openly sharing my story. I learned how to cope better with psoriasis flares, rather than becoming anxious about why I couldn’t control them. And I started riding my bike.

This summer, I now am the owner of a beautiful teal-colored cruiser bike. When I ride my bike, I feel like I am in control. I ride my bike to feel free. When I’m riding, I don’t feel like I have psoriatic arthritis. Instead, I’m brought back to my childhood memories of riding my bike in my backyard. While my bike is still new and hasn’t been ridden that much, I am already noticing a difference in my energy levels and joint pain. I feel like I can take back my body. After riding my bike, I’m not the anxious person that I used to be.

Exercising once felt like a mountain that I thought I couldn’t climb. But now, as I did as a kid, I can’t wait to ride my bike. 

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