On finding a new normal, advice for new comers, and the importance of trial and error, Megan Park continues to advocate for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) awareness.

Mediaplanet: How long have you been living with rheumatoid arthritis?

Megan Park: I’ve been living with RA my entire life. I was diagnosed at age two with juvenile RA, and then later with RA as an adult.

MP: What has been your biggest obstacle as a young person living with RA?

Megan P.: My biggest obstacle has been understanding my body and its limitations, then managing that instead of RA managing me. Also, staying on top of my health in general because I’m already more tired than the average person, more susceptible to getting sick and worn down — so I have to be extra careful. I definitely can’t be as hard on my body as some people can be, and bounce back just fine, but I also think it’s a blessing to learn from a young age how to take care of yourself so you don’t crash and burn.

MP: What do you feel are the some of the largest misconceptions surrounding rheumatoid arthritis? How can we tackle them?

Megan P.: That only elderly people have it. RA does generally affect older people, but there’s also a huge group of younger people who are also managing RA.

MP: How does RA impact the way you approach exercise and what are some of your favourite ways to stay active?

Megan P.: Because of my RA I’ve had some pretty intense knee surgery, and general joint damage. I have to be really careful with every exercise I do to not strain my knees and joints further. I generally look for “gentle” classes. I also tell every teacher about my RA so I can modify exercises. Due to my knee surgery, I cannot run, but I love yoga and gentle hiking. I just started taking Pilates, and I love that, but I modify some of the moves.

MP: Do you find that nutrition and diet plays a role in managing your condition?

Megan P.: Absolutely. I also have a lot of stomach issues after being on so much medication over the years to manage RA; plus, I also believe food plays a huge role in your health. I try to be extremely careful with what I’m eating. I have a holistic doctor I see, as well as my regular doctor, who I focus a lot on food with and how it effects inflammation in my body and how to regulate that.

MP: What do you wish you knew when you were first diagnosed?

Megan P.: My parents did a phenomenal job of managing my RA for me as a child. As an adult, I wish I had been turned onto some of the more holistic approaches sooner, in addition to what I was already doing, as I think they have helped me get ahead of problems and not always just managing them.

MP: What advice do you have for the newly diagnosed or those who are struggling?

Megan P.: RA is a tricky condition. It will take you awhile to figure out your body — why you are affected at certain times by certain things and how things should feel — but you will figure it out, and be able to live a super normal life. Stay active, take it slow, and try lots of different treatments and approaches until you find one that works for you in this moment. And that may change, but always check in with yourself and see what’s right for you — it’s different for everyone!