“I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, originally diagnosed as Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, as I was diagnosed when I was 11 years old. Juvenile/Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease causing the body to confuse its own cells and tissues as foreign ones, so the immune system, which usually helps fight off foreign, harmful substances such as viruses and bacteria, instead attacks healthy cells and tissues. This results in inflammation around joints, and it can also affect organs if left untreated. There is no particular reason why it happens, and it’s completely random.
I woke up one day to go to school at 11 years old and just couldn’t put one of my legs down. My ankle was swollen, so I had tests and eventually found out it was JIA. I was then put on medication: originally it was an aggressive dose of steroids, which completely changed my appearance because of the side effects. I did get a lot of cruel comments because of this at school, and it got to the point where I had to quit any active things I did, such as doing PE, walking to/from school, and any extracurricular activities because I physically wasn’t able to do them anymore. This also meant I lost a lot of friends and became very alone and isolated, which is something I’ve unfortunately found is a common theme throughout life with a disability (missing out and being isolated).
Eventually, it wasn’t just my ankles that were affected, as it spread to my knees, then my hips and elbows, and I’m currently awaiting a hip replacement. When you’re diagnosed with JIA, Doctors tell you there is a 70/30% chance you will grow out of it when you become an adult, but unfortunately, I fell in the 30% who didn’t. At the moment, I have regular injections I give myself to keep my condition under control and have also been having steroid injections since I was diagnosed. Some days are worse than others: sometimes I can walk a little, but if I went without my injections, I wouldn’t be able to move at all. I can walk a fair bit with crutches on good days, but most of the time I go out, I have to use my wheelchair.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how my disability affects my everyday life because it truly does affect every aspect of it. As of now, it’s something I’ve lived with for 12 years, so I’ve become used to not being able to do things most people my age can. Feeling isolated is sort of my normal way of life now. Originally when I was diagnosed, I was passionate about dance and did a few dance classes I really enjoyed, and I aimed to be a performer, so having to give up all of that was really hard at the time, and it took a long time for it to sink in I would have to focus on other things I am able to do (which I sort of am still looking for). One thing I do quite enjoy is acting though.
I’ve struggled a lot with my mental health over the last few years—depression, anxiety, and OCD mostly, I think it probably stemmed from not having control of my life or body anymore. Because of how things are for me most of the time, physically and also mentally, I miss out on a lot of events and social situations. It’s difficult for me to make friends and do normal, everyday things. Because of this, things like days out to the fair, which are very rare, are all the more special for me.
Obviously, being in a wheelchair makes days out difficult because places are not always accessible for disabled people. A few years ago before I had my wheelchair, I would have to take a fold-up chair to sit in lines because I couldn’t stand for long. Luckily, now I have my wheelchair, which makes it easier to get around, but it can be quite intimidating in crowded spaces to be in a wheelchair. As a disabled person, you get left behind a lot in life, metaphorically and literally, and you really do feel it when you’re at a place where most people are running around, having fun, and seemingly doing things much easier than you are able to.
I was on holiday in Somerset, UK, with family in 2019, and it was our last day there. Since I’m not usually able to do things I really want to, they asked what I wanted to do that day, and I really wanted to go to the fair. I expected I would maybe get to go on one ride, maybe two, maybe none. Honestly, being wheeled around the fair and just experiencing the atmosphere was enough for me. I was actually dealing with a lot of anxiety on this day and was just happy to be out, I think, which made this next man’s act of kindness all the more special.
When I first got to the fair, it looked pretty overwhelming, and I felt a little intimidated as there were a lot of people there, some running around, and there were lots of rides with lots of lines, some I definitely wouldn’t be able to go on. There was this one ride I saw had a ramp, so I knew I could get up to it. It looked really fun, so I decided I wanted to get in line.
I was sitting in my wheelchair, and a man came up to me and said, ‘Hey, do you want to come on the ride? You don’t have to wait.’ I then realized it was the man who was running it. I said, ‘Really?!’ He replied, ‘Of course!’ I was so shocked. This kind of thing doesn’t usually happen!
So I followed him to the front of the line, and the people in the line actually didn’t seem to mind, thankfully. When I got on the ride, he said to me, ‘There’s one condition, you have to have fun okay? Make sure you scream!’ I went on with my mom. He locked us in, and we went around the rollercoaster, I definitely did scream, and it was so fun! I was so grateful he had let me go on, it definitely made my day a lot better than it was previously going.
I then realized I hadn’t even paid him yet, so I got my money out and began to hand it to him, and he just shook his head. I thought to myself, ‘He can’t be letting me go on for free right?’… ‘Are you sure?’ I asked him. He replied, ‘Yes! Do you want to go on again?’ …what?! I was so shocked he was not only letting me skip the line AND go on for free, but now he was also letting me ride more than once!
In the end, I happened to ride it 5 times!! I thanked him so many times, this was one of the kindest things someone had ever done. As I was thanking him again and saying goodbye, he told me to hang on and ran somewhere. A few minutes later he came back with a cuddly toy dog (in conversation, I had said I liked dogs), and a hat he had overheard me saying I liked.
My family and I thanked him once again, and I went away with a huge smile on my face and feeling pretty emotional from this stranger’s random act of kindness. For the rest of the day, it didn’t even matter what I did, this one experience was enough to make my whole week, to be honest. I was strolling in my wheelchair for the rest of the day with this feeling of gratitude in my heart. I felt this person’s kindness so strongly. He had made me feel less small, less invisible, more valid, and more special, something I rarely feel.
I still to this day think about how kind he was to me and how he did it purely out of the kindness of his heart. As I said, when you’re in a wheelchair, you just miss out on a lot and get overlooked, which why his actions had such a big impact on me. I don’t know whether or not it seemed like a big deal to him or if it would to other people, but it was to me. It really restored my faith in human kindness. It showed there really are good, kind people out there in the world with pure intentions.
I hope people reading this, especially if they maybe feel like an outcast or invisible, can look at this small story and take away what I did. There are people out there who are willing to see you, and not every single moment will be gray. There are some light areas in your life, no matter how big or small, and you’ll find them, maybe in something like a random little encounter like this one.
I also hope people reading this will see doing random acts of kindness can really turn someone’s day around and impact them more than you know, no matter how big or small the gesture is. Maybe it’s something they’ll remember for years to come, maybe you’ll be the reason they smile that day, maybe you could turn their whole week around. I know it’s not something I will forget. There are just some things in life that you know you’ll think about every now and then, and this is one of them for me.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Natalie Parr of the UK. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Twitter. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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