Mediaplanet spoke with Secret Life of an American Teenager star Megan Park about living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic autoimmune disease, and how she balances the disease's unpredictable nature with her demanding lifestyle.

Autoimmune diseases are notorious for being difficult to identify. What was your experience of being diagnosed with RA?

Megan Park

Megan Park: I was diagnosed at age two, so I think the initial fear and worry was absorbed by my parents, who told me that it wasn't an easy diagnosis as RA can often be initially mistaken for other ailments. But they always made me feel that this was just a small part of my life, not my entire life, which I'm grateful for.

What knowledge gaps have you discovered while living with RA?

It's hard to find information on alternative treatments or all the other side effects that can arise. For example, I found that I developed certain food sensitivities that made a huge difference in the occurrence of inflammation in my body. Living in California has also had a significant effect on my pain due to the weather and barometric pressure changes. These factors aren't always talked about as much when it comes to RA.

"My parents always made me feel that this was just a small part of my life, not my entire life."

How do you balance your busy career with the daily struggles associated with RA?

I still struggle with the fatigue and it's probably the hardest side effect to manage, especially with long hours on set. I simply cannot stay up late or go out on my days off. I have to try and get as much sleep as possible and rest my joints every second I can when I'm on set.

What advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed with RA or another autoimmune condition that might not be widely understood?

Do as much research as you can on your own. Find a community and other people going through the same thing. It's easy to feel isolated, so make sure you find people who understand.