Eileen Davidson raises awareness about the overlooked aspects of chronic illness
March 18th, 2022
Eileen Davidson was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 29. Frustrated with misconceptions about chronic illness, she became a writer, speaker, and advocate.
We talked with Eileen about her experience with chronic illness, her biggest frustrations, and what she thinks of recent public health decisions.
Tell us about yourself
Eileen: I was diagnosed at 29 with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Although I have a family member in a wheelchair with the same condition, I had no idea I could get it so young. It's so much more than joint pain. People don't understand arthritis or the impact it has on life, especially on a single mother.
So I started speaking out to make people aware of what it's really like, and became a fierce RA advocate.
What are the challenges you face living with chronic illness? Eileen: I had to stop working at 29, because by the time I was diagnosed I was already in serious pain. It changed all aspects of my life, right down to how I get tattooed.
Then there was the challenge of finding the right doctor, dealing with chronic fatigue - which contrary to some beliefs isn't simply feeling tired and needing some rest - and doing it all as a single parent.
Eileen with son Jacob
What makes it more difficult is the lack of support: the low PWD rates, and the little that's offered for dental, physio, and chiro just doesn't add up to what it's like to live with this condition.
You're left to look through the glass, because you can't afford to do what's needed to stay healthy, when the rest of the world can.
What are the most frustrating misconceptions about chronic illness?
Eileen: People often think it can't be serious if you're young, that if you can't see it then it doesn't exist, but none of that's true.
There are also many people who believe that someone else's health isn't their responsibility. I think these people lack compassion, which is something my diagnosis has taught me a lot about.
People often think it can't be serious if you're young, that if you can't see it then it doesn't exist, but none of that's true.
Another frustration is the spread of false info, and not just about vaccines. There's something called toxic positivity - the idea that you just need to think positively to cure disability - and that's neither true nor helpful. How do you feel about the recent easing of pandemic safety measures?
Eileen: There are a lot of people celebrating it, and in a sense I'm happy too, but being immunocompromised I'm also concerned.
We can't just stop taking preventative measures all at once. Doing that will create big problems for hospitals and the health care system. I've received hateful messages for raising concerns - the "your health isn't my responsibility'' people again - but it needs to be said.
What are your goals at the moment?
Eileen: I love participating in health research, and am really hoping to continue my partnerships with various organizations to promote the development of tools which help people with chronic illness. I suggest the following ways to get involved: you can subscribe to Reach BC to learn about opportunities to participate in research in BC.
You can also connect with the Patient Voices Network, Arthritis Research Canada, and reach out to organizations like the Lupus Society and Fibromyalgia Association Canada to see if they have opportunities to volunteer.
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!