Libby Snow was 26 when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that affects around 400,000 people in the UK. Like many others who incorrectly assume that arthritis only affects older people, Libby was shocked by her diagnosis. She was in pain every single day, and quickly became dismayed as she considered her future and couldn’t envisage a day when she wouldn’t be in pain. Now 28, Libby is managing her condition thanks to information and support from Versus Arthritis.
“I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis two years ago. It’s an auto immune condition, which means that my immune system attacks my joints – causing pain, swelling, stiffness and fatigue. The pain and fatigue are difficult to understand if you haven’t experienced it – and I hope with more research, people will be able to better manage their condition.”
Arthritis impacted everything in her life, not just her mobility. Libby says: “I would wake up with swollen and sore joints all over my body. My hands were swollen to twice their size and my fingers would lock into a bent position. In your twenties you just don’t expect it. I thought I would never see a day where I wasn’t in pain.”
Libby watched her life becoming smaller, as the physical challenges she faced meant she began to lose her sense of who she was. She struggled to relate to people her own age, as many of them were just discovering themselves or making plans.
“My social life decreased,” she says. “I did not feel well enough to go out and it made it harder that the illness is invisible. I really struggled to convey how I was feeling to people around me.”
Coming full circle to regain independence
“I lost my independence and became reliant on those around me. I would dread getting out of bed in the morning, as I would need help with getting dressed and struggled with cleaning my teeth. Even basic tasks were just too much,” Libby says.
She explains that help taking control of her life started with getting the right kind of support. “I took time to get information from the Versus Arthritis website. I liked the fact that it wasn’t filled with medical jargon. I became more aware about my condition and felt I could make an informed decision about my treatment. Reading other people’s stories also helped me to come to terms with how certain treatments could impact my life.”
April 2018 marked a turning point for Libby, when she was treated with a drug that suppressed her immune system. Within the space of three months, she experienced a real shift in how she felt physically and emotionally. When her doctor confirmed, she was in remission, Libby felt she had overcome a situation that had dictated how she lived every minute of the day.
She describes how liberated she felt knowing that the treatment had been successful, “I cried with happiness when the doctor told me that my condition was not active. I felt so blessed to have my life back, albeit with a few changes and more regular trips to the hospital.”
After working hard to regain her mobility and her strength, Libby decided not to waste her newly gained independence. She invested in challenging her limits by applying to enter the London Marathon. This iconic 26-mile test of endurance is a serious physical investment and it was symbolic for Libby. Applying for a place and running the marathon meant she was starting her life again.
A first-time competitor, Libby completed the race in 4 hours and 54 minutes. “It was a deeply emotional experience and again I cried – just completely overwhelmed by what I had been able to achieve,” she recalls.
Accomplishing such a major goal, didn’t make Libby foolhardy. Throughout, she had made a personal commitment to guard her health.
She says, “I loved every moment of the London Marathon, but I had to listen to my body while training. When I crossed the finish line, I couldn’t quite believe what I had accomplished as two years ago, I wasn’t able to walk that distance, let alone run it.
A winning mindset versus arthritis
Right now, Libby is working as an insurance broker and is involved in regular physical activity. Finishing the London Marathon was a once in a lifetime event.
Now, she has settled into a routine which people who don’t have arthritis would probably take for granted. Libby doesn’t waste any opportunity to enjoy her life. She understands she could relapse again but tries to remain focused on living in the moment and will manage whatever comes as she needs to.
Libby’s journey has given her more than a little personal wisdom. She says, “I’m not going to let arthritis take over my life but I’m also realistic. I have to accept that some days I am more limited than others in what I can do.
When I feel run down, I try to take a step back because I know it could lead to a flare. I might even have to avoid people who are ill, because being on immunosuppressants puts me at high risk of serious infections. There may be years in the future when I may not be as well as I am now, so I’ll take every opportunity for success and happiness – and run with it.”