Vincent walked toward me wearing a checkered pastel pink shirt, dark grey jeans, and a camera bag slung over his shoulder. Although dark clouds hung above our heads, his bright smile and warm greeting easily brightened the day. We strolled along the False Creek sea wall and settled on a bench overlooking a group of cyclists and runners.
At age 19, Vincent is a dedicated full-time student. He also works full-time at a world famous gelato store. A few years ago, Vincent was diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA). The Arthritis Society describes JIA as an autoimmune disease which creates inflammation in the joints, “the place where bones come together.” His hands and knees have particularly been impacted. In the past, Vincent experienced inflammation in his tear ducts, so today he wears glasses to reduce any strain on his eyes.
For Vincent, living with JIA has meant “dealing with hidden pain that people will not really see.” He expressed that it hinders his involvement in everyday activities:
“Exercise is a good example. As a result, I have gained a lot of weight since I have been diagnosed with JIA. That has really affected how I dress and who I am as a person. I wear a lot of looser, lighter clothing and very sensible footwear. Feeling comfortable in what I’m wearing is so important,” Vincent shared.
Vincent describes his resulting style as “happy.” He likes to wear clothing with graphic designs that show who he is as a person. Photography is another way he expresses himself. He mainly captures candid moments of his friends, and even coordinated a project that encouraged others to share their personal challenges with one another. We had an opportunity to ask Vincent more about his personal journey with JIA.
Quick Questions with Vincent:
Can you tell us about a time that you have surprised yourself with what you have accomplished?
Basically, I surprise myself every day! When I come home from work, I feel tired. I can appreciate how hard I work now because I was not able to [work] when I was initially diagnosed with arthritis. Now, I’m a lot more healthy and comfortable with my body. I understand my limits, and I can appreciate everything a bit more.
What may our readers be excited to learn about you?
I want to be a math teacher! I think that math is beautiful. I’ve always been good at math, but I never liked it until I had a really great teacher to make me appreciate it. I want to do the same for other kids to change their relationship with math.
What has helped you to feel better emotionally in your experience?
I think it’s important to have a sense of humour! I used to do Improv in high school with a few good friends. Through that experience, I connected with another team member who also had an autoimmune disease. Making great friends and a building a strong support system really helped me to feel more comfortable with myself.
What would you like for our readers to understand about JIA? What would be helpful for you, personally?
[The pain] is often invisible, so you can’t necessarily see my symptoms. It can be difficult to explain and hard for people to empathize. For instance, it’s hard for people to understand that my knees are sore without them actually knowing that sensation.
I also have a difficult time on buses. I look like a young, relatively fit person who can stand comfortably or hold on to bars for support. However, sometimes that’s not the case. Sometimes, I would love a seat, but I won’t want to vocally express it. I kind of let it slide. Maybe there are ways to indicate that I have a disability, and that might be useful for other people.
It is also misunderstood that arthritis only happens to older people,” Vincent explained.
“But, arthritis can happen to anyone!”
While there is a lot that Vincent has accomplished, he takes the most pride in being able to write with a pencil again. When he was having flare ups, he elaborated, “using a pencil was out of question.”
What advice would you give to others who are going through a similar health challenge?
Try to live in the moment, and live for the future. Things will get better. Your health condition may shape you, but it does not have to define you.