How Lauren navigates her career with seronegative rheumatoid arthritis

19 March 2024
Smiling Lauren wearing pink fluffy coat holding a brown spaniel in front of a navigation lock

Lauren, 27, started having symptoms of seronegative rheumatoid arthritis in 2015.

This is a type of rheumatoid arthritis, which can be difficult to diagnose. This is because blood tests don't show certain antibodies that are commonly linked with the condition.

Here, Lauren shares the journey she has been on since getting her diagnosis, and how she has managed to forge a successful career while navigating her condition.

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In 2015, while finishing her A levels, Lauren started to experience swelling on the outside of her knee.

“I had an inflamed left knee, with a burning sensation down my calf and I was unable to bare weight,” she says.

At the time, it was put down as a sports injury and she was offered physiotherapy, which did little to help.

Lauren continued to have swelling, and was eventually referred to an arthritis specialist, who diagnosed her with seronegative rheumatoid arthritis.  

“I didn’t believe it as I associated arthritis to only be something that occurs in those later in life,” she says. “I was active and had a healthy lifestyle so I couldn’t understand how this could happen to me.”

Early career and arthritis

Lauren on her graduation dayAt the time of her diagnosis, Lauren was on a Management and Leadership Apprenticeship at a bank.

“I was getting into the swing of full-time work,” Lauren says, “learning new roles every six months, and completing my degree at the same time.”

After an allergic reaction to the medication, sulfasalazine, she was prescribed methotrexate, an immunosuppressant medication which works by slowing down the body’s immune system to help reduce swelling. Lauren struggled with these medications.  

 “I had a complete loss of appetite,” she says, “and would not want to eat the few days after taking my medication due to constant nausea.”

“The physical side was massively hard, being bed bound and being off long-term sick just when I wanted my career to get going.”

Lauren has found that working with arthritis has its challenges.

“I think a lot of invisible illnesses aren’t taken seriously or understood. People say they know exactly what I’m going through, but they don’t.”

Lauren, 27, who lives with seronegative rheumatoid arthritis

Supportive community and arthritis

Many people with arthritis find that it can be difficult to socialise or stay connected with friends when they are feeling particularly unwell. Lauren felt like she was alone after her diagnosis.

“I didn’t realise the effects my diagnosis would have on me not only physically,” Lauren says, “but I was left feeling completely socially isolated.”

But she wasn’t alone. She had a very supportive boyfriend and circle of friends who both helped her massively.

“My partner has been through it all,” she says, “he’d come over and all I wanted to do was sleep. I feel so bad looking back. For him to support me through all of this is huge.”

Lauren feels that more awareness of arthritis will help people to get the support they need.

“I’d like there to be more awareness, understanding, access to help and support,” she says. “I know the NHS is struggling but even one appointment with that person can make the world of difference.”

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Advancements in her treatment

Two years ago, Lauren started taking adalimumab, a biological anti-TNF drug.  She hasn’t had any issues since.

“The drugs are relatively new, so they don’t know the long-term side effects,” she says. “But I’d rather do something that will give me the best quality of life possible.”

Now that she has found a medication that works for her, Lauren has been able to go on walking holidays and ran her first half marathon.

“It’s nice to have success after so many years of feeling like a guinea pig. It can be so frustrating but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Lauren, 27, who lives with seronegative rheumatoid arthritis

A healthy work-life balance

Now, Lauren works from home as an environmentally responsible business manager. 

When it comes to working with arthritis, Lauren says that she has learnt to “adapt to things, not be embarrassed to tell people I have arthritis, and explain I may have a bad day, but I’ll still be good at my job.”

“It is important,” she says, “to get a good work life balance and to live a healthy lifestyle, as well as to surround yourself with positive and supportive people.”

“I think self-management is really important. I know what my triggers can be - I get emotional when I’m tired and, alongside stress, these types of things can cause a potential flare up.”

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Career Prospects and arthritis

Lauren wants all workplaces to be supportive of people with arthritis. She finds it hard applying for new roles, worrying that if she mentions her health condition she might not be hired.

"Working from home is great” Lauren says, “but sometimes you are required to go into the office twice a week and that can be hard, but you can be put off from job descriptions when they say you must be there.”

“It’d be nice if they put on job descriptions that there can be flexibility,” she says, “I am super lucky that my company is so flexible and supportive. Sometimes I wonder whether I’d ever want to look elsewhere because I’m currently being really supported.”

From 6 April 2024, employees will be able to request flexible working from the first day of a job. This is an exciting and positive step for people working with arthritis.

Working with arthritis can be challenging. With the right information and support from your employer, many people living with arthritis thrive in the workplace. 

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