'I went from playing football four hours a day to bed-ridden the next - but I won't let rare arthritis stop me travelling the world'
Conor D’arcy was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when he was just seven years old.
Now, sixteen years later, he is busy preparing for his upcoming trips to India and Singapore.
Admittedly, he initially struggled with the transition from a young boy who played football for four hours a day, to someone who could become bed-ridden with pain.
But just two days away from his 23rd birthday, the Dublin man is brimming with positivity.
“I’m planning on moving away soon which can be difficult to do as you’ve to organise all your medication and stuff, but if you work it well, you don’t let the obstacles get in your way,” he told Independent.ie.
Obstacles are something which Conor embraces, as he is not one to shy away from a challenge.
“As soon as I got old enough, I said I really, really want to do a sky dive. You can sometimes think with diseases like arthritis that you should just sit around, but I think it’s best to get out and do stuff. I did the jump in 2011 for Arthritis Ireland and I proved to myself that with enough determination, I can do anything,” he said.
He’s also adventurous when it comes to his choice of travel destinations, opting to venture off the beaten track.
“Yeah, you can go to Australia and Canada but they have similar cultures to Ireland. I prefer more culture shocking places, so I’m really looking forward to my trip to India. I then want to base myself in Singapore because you can move around to so many places from there.”
Another aspect of his life which Conor chooses to view in a positive light is his early diagnosis.
“To be honest, I always found that because I got it at such a young age it didn’t bother me as much. When you get diagnosed at a young age, you don’t know any better to the life you’re living then.
“It took about a month to get diagnosed which is fairly quick compared to some. I was very badly affected by it when I first got it, but someone can wait up to two years to get diagnosed,” he said.
Conor is actively involved with Arthritis Ireland and regularly helps the organisation run a number of events for teenagers who suffer from juvenile arthritis.
A man of empathising nature, he relishes the opportunity to share his experiences with others.
“Getting diagnosed in your teen years is the most difficult I find because you have enough problems to deal with at that age as it is.
“But I think, if you have people who are the same age going through the same stuff you are, they will understand and make it easier for you. For example, a 30-year-old doesn’t have homework etc. but if they are in a peer group, then they will understand a bit more,” he advised.
Every year Conor helps organise a juvenile arthritis road trip to an outdoor facility in Birr, Co. Offaly. The purpose of the trip is to encourage young people to do activities which they probably thought to be impossible for an arthritis sufferer.
“We really want to show them they can do these things, such as rock-climbing and kayaking, even if they don’t think they can.
“I know a lot of people live in fear of rejection because of the disease, but when you try new things and put yourself out there, you will find a lot of people support you,” he said.
As the conversation comes to an end, Conor leaves me with some parting words of wisdom:
“Don’t try and hide the fact you have it, it’s just a little set back. Listen to people’s advice and go with your gut. It affects everyone differently so there is a lot of trial and error involved, but it is possible to do all the things you ever wanted to.”