The Cinderella Condition

"Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper" is a folk tale embodying a myth-element of unjust oppression/triumphant reward. The title character is a young woman living in unfortunate circumstances that are suddenly changed to remarkable fortune. The word "Cinderella" has, by analogy, come to mean one whose attributes are unrecognized, or one who unexpectedly achieves recognition or success after a period of obscurity and neglect.

Let's face it; arthritis is a kind of “Cinderella “disease. If you have to get saddled with a disease, getting a popular one would make some things about the whole ordeal a little easier to take. For starters, when you tell people what you have, they wouldn't stare at you with a blank, slightly puzzled expression while trying to portray sympathy - even though they have no idea what you just said or easily dismiss it because they have it, too, in their knee, their ankle, or their shoulder.

If you have arthritis, chances are you know what I'm talking about. Wouldn't it be lovely to be able to take yoga or Pilates classes especially designed for people with arthritis? How comforting would it be to go to the bookstore after being diagnosed and see rows and rows of books about your disease, telling you what to eat for it, how to exercise for it, treat it and survive it. How to laugh about it, talk about it with your partner, your kids, your doctor, your boss, neighbour and that random person you bump into on the street. When most people are first diagnosed, they are dismayed, not only to find out that they have a disease (obviously), but also to find out that they have gotten stuck with one that nobody seems to know or care about. There are more books on the shelf of my local bookstore dealing with restless leg syndrome than arthritis!

... So not only do you get arthritis in one form or another, but you get a kind of weird inferiority complex, like "My disease isn't as good as yours since it doesn't have any bling, good merchandise or Lifetime movies about it." We don't even have a celebrity spokesperson. Kathleen Turner finally revealed that she has RA in her biography, but sadly, it didn't make a big splash, and even if it had, next to all that juicy backstage gossip, her struggle with RA took a backseat in the telling of her story. Michael Jackson revealed that he had Lupus but that too took backstage in terms of media coverage.

Why do some diseases seem to capture national empathy while others are relegated to the back of the bus? It's not just about the mortality rate, because heart disease is the number one killer of women. Breast cancer is much more identifiable, better-funded and it gets all the attention. Shelley Lewis, author of the sharply funny Five Lessons I didn't Learn from Breast Cancer (and One Big One I Did), writes about this phenomenon in her book, and it got me thinking. Why is arthritis at such a disadvantage?

For one thing, the fact that it won't kill you makes it harder to dramatize. Knowing it's not fatal is good if you have the disease, but compared to personal stories of struggle and triumph with illnesses like cancer or Parkinson's, arthritis is just not tragic enough to pull on the heartstrings of the public. There’s no shout from the rooftops, "I SURVIVED IT" moment. There are only smaller, harder-to-portray moments of glee and glory, such as "HOORAY! My drugs are working! I don't feel like utter #@%& today!"

I don't think there are any colours for an awareness ribbon left, though I suppose we could move on to patterns. Maybe arthritis could be polka dots or a perky Scottish Tartan? So, where does this leave all of us? I'm not sure I have the solution.....yet! I am ever-hopeful, however, our story will eventually have a Cinderella ending with arthritis receiving the recognition it deserves!

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  • So true!!!!