For the last fifteen years, Mikenzie Oldham has visited various doctors, trying to find the source of her chronic, debilitating pain.
Recently, the Oklahoma mom of two was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that affects the spine and large joints. There is no cure, leaving Oldham only medication to slow the progression of the condition and more often than not, putting her in a great deal of pain.
So Oldham took to her Facebook page, Me and all my boys, to share honestly about her struggle and to gather support from her family, friends and followers.
"There are days I don’t want to leave my house," Oldham wrote in the post. "There are days I don’t feel like I can get my kids ready for school. This isn’t how I wanted it."
"When I go out with my family, I am pretending to be this happy, healthy mother. It’s all a show, you guys," she continued. "We all have an invisible battle. Whether it’s emotional stress, anxiety, depression or physical pain. It’s there, lurking. Some seem to be better at coping than others."
Oldham told TODAY Parents that in addition to turning down social invitations and feeling frustrated that her husband, Kory, and her parents often have to take care of her, arthritis hinders her ability to be the mom she wants to be to her twin sons, Kase and Kingston, 5.
"Some weeks, I'm fine. Some weeks, I feel lethargic and my body hurts so badly," said Oldham. "There have been nights over the past year that my husband has had to come home, get heat packs and pain cream on me, feed the boys, and put them to bed while I lay in bed crying."
Cindy McDaniel, senior vice president of consumer health and impact at the Arthritis Foundation, says while the public often thinks arthritis only affects the elderly, nearly two-thirds of adults with arthritis are diagnosed before the age of 65.
"When considering parents with kids who still live at home, the chance of having a parent with arthritis isn’t as uncommon as people think," said McDaniel.
When it comes to parenting with a painful condition such as arthritis, the key is taking good care of yourself, getting rest, and leaning on others for support. McDaniel says.
"We often hear that parents with arthritis make tradeoffs, such as relaxing on a Friday, so they can go to their kid’s soccer game on Saturday," said McDaniel. "Parents will also manage their arthritis by involving their kids. For example, asking older kids to help cut vegetables for dinner, since cutting is often hard and painful."
Oldham credits her husband and parents for helping her on her most painful days. And, she says, her sons are always there to bring her a glass of water or deliver a gentle snuggle.
So what advice does Oldham give to other parents with chronic pain?
"You know your body the best — if you feel something is wrong and you are not getting the answers you believe are right, keep looking and keep fighting for the correct diagnosis," said Oldham. "You have the right to fight for your health."