Living with arthritis can be difficult in itself.
For Sharmila Sriram, a 46-year-old single mother and entrepreneur living with seronegative rheumatoid arthritis, it’s also quite the juggling act.
The Mississauga, Ont. resident understands the importance of a strong support system. Among the people who help the most is her younger sister, Sapna.
“She was a strong advocate for me from day one. I’m glad she was in my corner. She motivated and pushed me when I was at my most vulnerable. It used to frustrate me but now I’m thankful for it.”
“My mom has also been extremely supportive and has helped a lot with my daughter. There have been times when I couldn't get out of bed, and she would come over to help right away. I'm extremely grateful to have her in my life.”
At 29, Sharmila was an active gym enthusiast, but after sustaining a knee injury during a Tai Bo class, other joints strangely began to hurt too, and she felt her body shutting down. She knew something was off.
She visited a sports medicine physician who was unable to help while the active inflammation was under control and Sharmila was eventually referred to a rheumatologist.
She put off seeing the specialist for some time, as she dreaded what they might say. And when her diagnosis was confirmed, she broke down in tears.
“It spiraled into a sense of despair. I had a friend who had rheumatoid arthritis and I saw its debilitating effect. For a while, I felt like a victim. Arthritis had robbed me of my youth and health, and it became a paralyzing thought.”
She was eventually inspired by stories and hands-on tips found on the Arthritis Society website and found solace in rethinking her approach to life. Things were starting to look up and the idea of starting a family filled her heart with joy. She gave birth to her daughter at 35.
However, she had to stop taking her medication during pregnancy. Her left knee got increasingly worse and she had to have a knee replacement at age 37, then hip surgery a year later. To improve her quality of life, it was recommended she get the other knee replaced, which she did a few years after that.
There were also dark times in these years as she lost her father, saw her marriage fall apart, and found that her medication wasn’t helping her as much at the time.
But her love and deep connection to her daughter was the rock that kept her from unraveling.
“She has helped with my arthritis from the moment she was growing inside me. She has been my reason for staying positive and being strong. Everything I have overcome is for her. I had to fight through a lot because my little girl deserves a strong mom.”
These days, Sharmila practices yoga and meditation and trains at home with online exercises tutorials. She’s learnt to incorporate mindfulness into her daily tasks and to take it day by day, keeping a positive mindset, even throughout painful episodes.
Not too long ago, she’d be overwhelmed at the thought of taking her daughter to the park. Today, she’s comfortable planning a trip to Disneyland, for when travelling becomes possible again.
“In hindsight, I wish I had used the Arthritis Society’s resources earlier. My journey has taught me so much. Arthritis is treatable, it’s important not to let it take over and to remain hopeful. I know how to make the cards I’m dealt work for me now.”