Arthritis at 23: ‘I struggle to walk – but people don’t believe that I’m ill’

‘It got to the point where I couldn’t exercise, drive or go up the stairs. Sometimes I couldn’t get out of bed’ (Picture: Georgia Morris)

Georgia Morris was diagnosed with a form of arthritis when she was just 23, after months of suffering with a mystery condition that left her joints so sore and swollen she couldn’t get up the stairs.

Thanks to the ‘hidden’ nature of her condition and the fact that it is typically associated with older people, Georgia says she struggles to get the support she needs – and even her closest friends and partner sometimes forget that she is ill.

‘For about a year before I was diagnosed, I had no idea what was going on,’ Georgia tells ‘I worked in theatre and my psoriasis started just before a tour – it was the tiniest patch on my head

‘When my tour contract ended, I started a full-time teaching job. A few months later my right foot ballooned and while I was fake tanning I noticed that I had a rash on my entire leg.

‘My toes were swollen and red raw. I thought, “what on earth is that?!”’

At this point, Georgia was still going to the gym, even though she needed crutches because the pain was becoming so bad.

‘But it got to the point where I couldn’t exercise, drive or go up the stairs,’ she says. ‘Sometimes I couldn’t get out of bed.

‘Once, I had to call my housemate because I needed to go to work and they had to help me get ready.’

Georgia has psoriatic arthritis, which is a form of the illness that affects some people with the skin condition psoriasis. It typically causes affected joints to become swollen, stiff and painful.

Like psoriasis, this type of arthritis is a long-term condition that can get progressively worse. If it’s severe, there’s a risk of the joints becoming permanently damaged or deformed, and surgery may be needed.

The illness causes very painful joint inflammation in Georgia’s body, fatigue, red raised skin and swelling in the fingers and toes, known as dactylitis or more commonly as ‘sausage digit’.

She struggles to walk and had to use crutches when the pain got really bad (Picture: Georgia Morris)

‘When I eventually saw the rheumatologist and told him I have psoriasis, he sent for bloods,’ says Georgia. ‘He said I needed to try to walk without crutches to get movement back in my foot.

‘It was a relief to get the diagnosis, but being given drug information was more overwhelming because you have to make a decision about treatment and medication.

‘I was offered methotrexate but for me, the side-effects of this medication outweighed the benefits. I wanted to try another option, but I realise not everyone can do this.’

After her diagnosis, Georgia moved to London while she was in the middle of a flare-up and started a new full-time teaching job.

‘I commuted via tube and had my “please offer me a seat badge” on, but the TFL workers had to get on the train and get someone to stand up to give me a seat. Once everyone stared at me and I just broke down,’ Georgia recalls.

She says the hardest thing is when people forget that she actually has a debilitating illness.

‘I still struggle to walk sometimes, I wear wrist straps and supports and insoles every day, and these aren’t things that are visible to the general public,’ Georgia says. ‘Even my close friends, partner and family forget at times.

‘However. I try not to let this get to me as this is unfortunately something that comes with the “hidden disability” aspect of the condition. 

‘I don’t look ill and sometimes you have to remind people how you really are.’

The psoriasis can affect anywhere on Georgia’s body (Picture: Georgia Morris)

Georgia says she was relieved when she finally received a diagnosis because it took months for her to get any real answers.

‘But I was also scared because it’s not something that was talked about with younger people getting arthritis,’ she adds. ‘Slowly over the years, it’s becoming more and more talked about – which is so amazing. 

‘I was also scared because I was told there was no way to manage the condition apart from medication, and the way the medication is talked about can be quite overwhelming.

‘Plus, being younger you don’t really see much shared online from other younger people – or at least I didn’t when I was diagnosed.’

What is arthritis?

Arthritis means pain, swelling or stiffness in a joint or joints. Arthritis isn’t a single condition and there are many different types

Who does it affect?

Around 8.75 million people in the UK have osteoarthritis, and around another 1 million have an inflammatory arthritis, like psoriatic arthritis.

According to Versus Arthritis, an estimated 2.98 million people under the age of 35 in the UK are living with a musculoskeletal (MSK) condition like arthritis, of which chronic pain is a key symptom.

Now, at 27, Georgia still struggles with bad flare-ups, but she has found her own coping mechanisms that work for her.

‘My fingers got swollen so its too painful to hold hands with my partner Lauren who I met two years ago,’ says Georgia.

‘I try to be light-hearted about it as I am aware people might not know I’m ill. Everyone with arthritis is different and it is a hidden illness.

‘When you have a hidden condition, it’s important to to have humour even though it’s not a nice situation, taking a light-hearted approach can sometimes help ease the pressure.’

For Georgia, the cold weather has a huge impact on her condition, causing flare-ups, but she has found exercise very helpful for managing her condition. For many people with arthritis the cold weather can be challenging but there are things that you can be done.

‘Stress and the cold can give me flare-ups, sometimes you will see me wearing three pairs of socks,’ she says.

Georgia says she struggles to hold hands with her girlfriend Lauren because of the pain (Picture: Georgia Morris)

Natalie Carter, head of research engagement at Versus Arthritis says Georgia is not alone in this.

‘Many people with arthritis believe that changes in the weather affect their level of pain,’ says Natalie. ‘However, everyone’s experience of arthritis is different and certain weather conditions will improve pain levels for some people, while others will experience the opposite.’

To date there has been very little research in how weather impacts arthritis, so Versus Arthritis funded the world’s first smartphone-based study to investigate the association between weather and chronic pain.

The Cloudy with a Chance of Pain study by the University of Manchester asked thousands of participants across the country to record their daily symptoms with a dedicated smartphone app. Researchers then tallied this against participants’ GPS data so they could identify patterns and trends.

The research showed that people experienced greater discomfort on humid and windy days, whereas dry days were least likely to be painful.

‘Our study did not examine the mechanism by which weather influences pain but others have suggested why different aspects of the weather may influence pain; however few have been conclusively proven,’ says Natalie. ‘For example, pressure has been suggested to have a direct effect on joints and their altered anatomy in patients with arthritis, but this is not proven.’

How to cope with cold weather if you have arthritis

‘Keeping warm is important,’ says Natalie. ‘It can be helpful to wear loose layers of clothing as they work better at trapping the heat than thicker clothes.

‘Wearing thicker socks or two pairs (as long as they’re not too tight) not only helps to keep your feet warm but also provides extra cushioning under your soles, and sheepskin or fur-lined slippers and shoes can help keep your feet warm too.’

Natalie also suggests using draft excluders and close your curtains at dusk to help keep heat in – this is particularly important if you’re working from home and feeling the chill.

‘A hot water bottle can be a great investment as it will keep your bed warm as well as ease joint stiffness,’ adds Natalie.

‘Keeping active will improve your circulation and help to keep you warmer. The weather might put you off doing long outdoor walks but there are many indoor options, like doing a yoga class, trying aerobics or using a treadmill. 

‘Staying active helps keep your joints healthy, as well as increasing wellbeing and general fitness.

‘Make sure you eat well too. You need energy from food to stay warm, so try to have regular hot meals and drinks.

‘We’re coming into the festive season but it’s wise to be careful with alcohol in the cold. If you’ve drunk too much alcohol and you go out into the cold, your body sends heat away from the core of your body to warm up the blood vessels and skin at the surface of your body.’

Natalie says it’s important to note that joint pain and osteoarthritis occur in all climates and although the weather may affect your arthritis symptoms or how you feel, it won’t cause the condition – or affect the way it develops.

‘As the weather can affect people’s pain levels in different ways it’s a good idea to recognise the conditions that seem to trigger more pain for you so you can plan your activities as best you can,’ she says.

Find out more by subscribing to the Versus Arthritis YouTube channel, or by signing up to their free 12-week online exercise programme called Lets Move with Leon.

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