As I am a 17 years old, in my years of youth, I basically think I know everything about everything, (as every teen does) but, I can honestly admit, I had not a clue what ankylosing spondylitis was until a few years ago when, ironically, my knowledge expanded.
15 years of age, my back was in the first few stages of developing pain which was towards my lower spine. I didn’t really acknowledge my back, in my conscious, my back wasn’t exactly something I thought would be any issue to me. As a secondary school student, I was focused on my education and getting my grades, I believe this is the most important thing to focus on. I was in year ten, this made me withdraw from thinking there was any possibility of having a bad back.
The beginning was a blur, but probably the most important stage, it was a timeline of events which are the background necessity of my diagnosis. My parents, unlike me, had the knowledge, especially my mum, due to her profession, but I wasn’t listening…well as bad as it sounds, what teenager listens to their mum, however her praise from me will come.
Around 4 months in to me echoing my back pain to my parents, we started to eliminate possibilities. First my dad, bought me a new mattress, man, it was incredibly different to my old one but the difference to my back made no difference. Can you however see the link? We were focusing on the physical objects rather than what I was literally undergoing. Until I was 16 and was a year into my stages of my pain developing, I began to feel uncomfortable when I rested for a length of time, I felt my back stiffen and on occasions had to stretch continuously meanwhile getting moving again. To give insight to the reader on some of the occasions. The time of the day was morning and I had come down stairs at roughly eleven in the morning, so I had been resting for at least ten hours straight, I sat down, as I began to get up my lower back tied itself together and I gasped.
My dad, bless his soul had no clue what I was doing, but showed concern. Now bringing on the appraisal of my mum; she understood me. As much as pain isn’t a topic I feel is anything to lighten the mood, I feel like it connects to others I will lightly touch on it now and again.
Focusing back onto me being a student, the concern kicked in roughly after my GCSES when I was at home and having longer time lying in the morning, resting for longer lengths of time had an effect and I was complaining often, until we went abroad. While sitting on the sun bed mum turned to me and asked me whether my back felt any better. I was shocked, she asked me a week into the two week holiday and I had totally forgot about the pain. At the time I didn’t realise my mum was eliminating the signs, but the hot weather did have a large positive effect on my back. Going back into the colder months, not only was I moving into sixth form, I had evidently realised my back was at its worst. I cannot sit still when working, lacking in concentration to realising when I reached for the bread bin lid, my back was straining. This lead to my mum taking some action, as I believed she and I reached a consensus and 3 months into starting sixth form I was referred to a rheumatologist from my local GP.
Starting at the very beginning, I was delighted to have such a friendly and a lovely amount of mutual respect and understanding with Dr Obaid. She was very supportive and knew what needed to be done and therefore she examined me with detail and got straight to the point.
I had my MRI scan 6 weeks after my first check-up. I could just leave it there but for anyone who can remember their first MRI scan then here’s mine… it was terrifying and I wish I had worn an eye mask and listened to my mum to NOT open my eyes! Silly me. However to calm everyone down, you do get over it.
Dr Obaid also made the decision to refer me to a physiotherapist in my local area. At my first appointment I was told about the results of my MRI and we went forward from there. My Physiotherapist was a huge help and really opened my knowledge on what specific exercise are good for my back and also fit well with my unique health and age.
Roughly 3 months on, I have been given as much help with exercises as I need and feel I have a variety of exercises to improve my well-being and I have noticed a change in how I am managing my back pain. In terms of my concentration in exams, I have also been given movements to help me through pain meanwhile in exams or lessons which also I feel has helped massively. I recently have got a job waitressing and feel as though this is also helping my back as I am exercising and building my back muscle strength. On top of that I have been training in netball for the past five years and I plan to continue as this is an extreme pain relief for me.
In terms of my mental health, I am a teenager and I do occasionally become upset or tired of my back hurting and I need to sit down or rest more than my friends but unfortunately I have to deal with this and remain as positive as I can be. I think it is also a key element to have a group of friends to be able to support me and understand what I understand, not forgetting the support from my family who are a massive dose of positive energy who are the ultimate.
Scarlet is 17 years old, beginning her second year in A levels which includes, English Literature, Sociology and Politics. Her journey with AS just started.