Personal Stories
  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

After suffering years of pain in her feet and legs and undergoing numerous operations between the ages of 18 and 23, Charlotte was finally diagnosed with the psoriatic form of arthritis last spring.

Work as a chef was Charlotte Bamford’s world and what got her out of bed in the mornings.

But when the 25-year-old was hit by crippling arthritis, she was forced to consider abandoning her dreams and find a new future.

 Charlotte, from Kilsyth, first experienced pain in her feet and legs in her teens but they were put down to bone deformities, which doctors told her could only be corrected when she reached adulthood.

She said: “All through my teenage years, I had problems with my feet and it was put down to bunions.

“It was more noticeable in high school because I was doing different sports and realised something wasn’t right. I was in pain and feeling really uncomfortable when exercising.

“I was constantly up at the hospital because I’d sprained something or hurt something. They thought once I had my operation that would solve all my troubles.”

Between the ages of 18 and 23, Charlotte had three operations on her feet but they didn’t improve.

Despite severe fatigue and joint stiffness, she continued to pursue her dream of being a chef, working in Glasgow. “I was cheffing in different restaurants, getting an understanding of all different places,” she said.

“Then I landed a job with a good cafe bar. I was off work due to my operations then went back into work, before having corrective surgery so I was off work for a long time.

“Last year, things became really bad. I was constantly tired. When I came home, I just slept and it was a struggle to get up. The only thing that got me through it was I loved my job. That’s what I was getting up for but it’s demanding as it is, never mind having an illness to contend with.”

Then, last spring, Charlotte began to lose the grip in her hands.

“Opening crisp packets or bottles of juice was difficult and my hands were becoming very swollen,” she said.

“That was the alarm bell for my GP. I had really bad fatigue, pain, stiffness and swelling.

“I kept having blood tests but they couldn't find anything. Then I was referred to the rheumatology department.”

As a teenager, Charlotte developed psoriasis, which can trigger arthritis in up to one in five sufferers.

Most people associate the condition with old age but 12,000 children and young people in the UK have some form of arthritis.

In September last year, Charlotte was diagnosed with the psoriatic form for which there is no cure and can, if not successfully treated, lead to sufferers becoming crippled.

This is a very real fear for her. “It’s an unspoken thing with my peers. I know it’s going to happen but we don’t talk about it. I just try to think positive,” she said.

Charlotte was put on several combinations of medications.

“Taking different cocktails of drugs is one of the hardest things I've been through. I've been on some that have made me sick as a dog,” she said.

“I lost over a stone on one because of being so sick but you have to give it six months to allow it to work.

“They tried other drugs that made me ill and then I was put on one that is really helping my arthritis and has suppressed it in a sense.”

Though Charlotte was forced to take more time off work last year, the new medication has allowed her to return to the kitchen part-time.

“I've got my old job back but it’s been adapted so I’ll be cooking one day and then the next day I’ll have an easy shift washing the dishes.”

But battling pain and exhaustion means Charlotte has had to reconsider her career. She is studying social sciences at Cumbernauld College and hopes to train as a teacher. She said: “I came to college to give me an opportunity to work in the future when things may get bad.”

Charlotte is also finding great support from the friends she has met through charity Arthritis Care’s program for young people battling the condition.

She said: “You need emotional support because most young people will suffer depression due to their illness because you become isolated, it restricts you so much. I can’t really go out with my pals. By the time I've done a 45-minute bus journey, I’m shattered. By the time I get there, I’m grumpy as hell and then I tend to get sore and stiff.

“Joining the youth group has been the most support I could ask for. I can really express how I feel and what’s been happening. You’re more empowered to take control of your condition and think more positively.”

Charlotte writes a blog, sharing her ups and sometimes terrible downs in an honest and moving account of her life. In one of her earliest posts, she wrote: “Arthritis is my body at war with itself. I find it very challenging at times, in different aspects in my life, with pain, with getting around places and with my social life. Hardest of all is the emotional side.

“In my mind I am not sick. I am still the same person I was at 16 on my skateboard. I believe that I can still have a strenuous and stressful job like I used to. Then reality kicks in as I move and the pain hits.

“This is where I sink into depression as I feel incapable of being able to earn my own way and to pay the bills like I used to.”