I always thought of myself as a high flier! By Sally Merrey

You’re never too old for cartwheels, so at 37, on holiday with friends in Scotland I took to the boards next to the waterfront and started my run up. 30 seconds later I’m collapsed in a heap on the floor, my hands and wrists give way on me. Umm, maybe I am too old for this?

Not once did I think that there might be a problem with my hands – why would I?  But now I know that was my first trigger, that I would soon be getting more and more “symptoms”, but what for?  It took me three years to eventually be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).   Having now read more and more on my disease, a long diagnosis period appears to be a common theme.  Sore hands, swollen joints, sore feet, stiff hips were met with “it’s your age” or “it’s wear and tear”.  Thankfully after blood tests, scans, prodding and poking here I am.  I felt a bit of a fraud at my specialist appointments, I was the youngest one there by about 30 years but it’s only through education that I now appreciate it affects young and old, men and women and children of all ages.

RA affects many people in different ways and thankfully I have only had 3 major flare ups in my hips and shoulders which meant I couldn’t even get out of bed and the pain was pretty unbearable, but mainly my day to day problems are gripping things, not being able to put pressure on my hands or wrists which affects cutting food, holding saucepans etc.  I had to learn to do basic things around the house in different ways so as not to make my condition worse.  My job is in financial services and it is 95% admin based so carrying files and even writing can be hard some days as I can’t even grip a pen.  For me, it’s learning that if you ask for help it’s there and remembering that you can’t always do the things you used to but you don’t have to feel useless – it’s all about adapting. 

I don’t feel alone though – local NRAS groups, media information and awareness, magazines, radio and television are all being used to spread the word that there is help, support and care for all of us.  It’s not just a 6 monthly trip to talk to my specialist – I can learn so much more and gain help and tips for coping on a day to day basis.

There is so much more I need to know though and I think I have spent the last 9 years in slight denial and probably haven’t taken my condition as seriously as I should.  RA doesn’t just affect your joints, it can affect major organs, skin and your eyes.  Fatigue is also a major hindrance and is not fully appreciated.  There are so many things to think about and not just for sufferers but for those who care for us too.

That’s why when I heard of the NRAS RA Awareness Week I wanted to do something to help raise funds and awareness in my own circle of family and friends.  If I don’t fully understand the implications of living with RA, will they? So, whilst I am still able to, I went one better than a cartwheel – A WING WALK!!  Kindly sponsored by my employer, Kingsley Financial Planning Ltd, in Leamington Spa, I planned my daring challenge. Many people wondered how with RA I could even get up on the wing and I can tell you, it wasn’t easy but I did it; I flew in the air on a Stearman plane up at 500 ft and 130 mph for 10 minutes (thanks to the marvellous pilots and staff at Aerobatic Tactics Ltd) and with the help of my family and wonderfully supportive husband, recovered from the after effects to see my target of £1,000 surpassed and I have raised £1,215 in total.  So many kind donations were given by friends, family and people I didn’t even know – so you know……. THE SKY’S THE LIMIT!

Autumn 2014, by Sally Merrey