Kate was diagnosed with arthritis at just 16 and now sometimes struggles to lift herself out of bed in the morning.
A young woman struck down by crippling rheumatoid arthritis has revealed how, despite the agonising pain and difficulties she and her partner experience during sex, the condition has brought them closer together.
Hairdresser Kate Stallard, 28, who will be enjoying a dip in a jacuzzi on Valentine’s Day with her logistics manager boyfriend, Karl Lovell, 31, says the disease, which causes her immune system to attack healthy tissue lining her joints, has made their relationship “very intimate.”
Kate, of Bude, Cornwall, who was just 16 when she was diagnosed with the autoimmune condition, which causes constant pain in her joints, said: “There are obviously times when we have to adapt to where my pain might be on a particular day and try different sexual positions that are more comfortable for me.”
She added: “But it is always worth it and I think that it actually makes us closer in the bedroom, because working around the pain intensifies the pleasure of it all.”
Kate first began to notice problems with her joints when she was 14, after her left knee began to swell up, making it difficult for her to straighten her leg.
A sporty teenager, whose favourite school subject was P.E., Kate was dismayed when the swelling became so bad she needed surgery on the joint a year later, to remove what medics believed to be a build up of fluid.
When the pain rapidly spread to other joints, including her hips, wrists, shoulders and fingers – resulting in pain so intense there were days when she could not even lift herself out of bed – it became clear that something much more serious was happening.
And in 2006, aged 16, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-immune form of arthritis, which is incurable with no known trigger.
“It was quite a relief being diagnosed, as finally I knew what was wrong with me,” said Kate.
She continued: “At the time, I wasn’t really thinking about the fact that this would affect me quite profoundly for the rest of my life.
“I heard arthritis and just thought, ‘Oh, it’s the sort of thing my nan has, it won’t be so bad.'”
Sadly, she underestimated the impact of the disorder, which meant that, after leaving school at 16 she could only work part-time, because of her constant pain and fatigue – leading to her taking up hairdressing a few days a week.
Prescribed steroids for pain-relief and anti-rheumatic drugs, when she was having a flare up, a time when the symptoms became more intense, performing even the smallest task was agony.
But with the pain most severe in her knees, she was OK to work as a hairdresser, though she says she occasionally had to wear a wrist splint on her days off.
“As my arthritis began to get worse stupid little things that I normally took for granted became impossible, like holding a pen or pouring sauce on my food,” she said.
Then, in June 2017, she met Karl through a mutual friend.
After a few weeks, the pair started dating in earnest, discovering they were clearly a good match, bonding over their shared love of the seaside and scurrilous sense of humour.
But Kate fretted over how she would tell him about her arthritis which, by then, was causing flare-ups at intervals of roughly once every week.
Fate intervened, according to Kate, who recalled: “We were lying in bed one morning a couple of weeks into the relationship and suddenly I could feel a flare-up coming on.
“I tried to ignore it and pretend that nothing was wrong, but then as I got out of bed and stood up, I was just completely paralysed down my left side and couldn’t move an inch.
“And that’s when I explained about my arthritis. To my great relief, Karl was completely understanding about it.”
Far from putting the brakes on their romance, their relationship continued to blossom and, after a little over a year together, she and Karl, who has three children from previous relationships, moved into a house together.
Together now for 18 months, while they are very much in love, Kate does feel her condition can put a strain on their relationship.
“I have good days and bad days, and I know it can be hard for Karl to know which day is which sometimes,” she confessed.
Kate continued: “For example, the other day I wasn’t feeling great and he slapped my bum, playfully, which really was not what I needed and I was very short with him.
“Of course, it’s not his fault at all, but it can sometimes be difficult.”
The regular swelling around her joints, also affects Kate’s self esteem and makes her feel self-conscious.
She continued: “There are times when I get paranoid and think that everybody must be staring at me, because my knee has swollen up, or because I’m having trouble moving.
“And that really makes me wonder what Karl could possibly see in me.
“Sometimes, I wonder if he wouldn’t be better off with someone normal who didn’t have all these problems.”
But Karl remains adamant that there is only one woman he wants to be his Valentine.
“We don’t have the same difficulties as other people, who might wake up in the morning and worry about morning breath,” said Karl. “Instead, we are worrying if Kate will be able to move.
“But, in many ways, sharing those difficulties is what has brings us closer together.”
He added: “There may be days when Kate’s condition is particularly bad, but that makes the good days all the more magical, and you have to hold on to every second of them.”
Kate is speaking out to encourage other people not to suffer in silence and get in touch with Versus Arthritis, a UK charity dedicated to helping people with the condition, for support.
For information, visit www.versusarthritis.org
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