Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis six years ago at age 32, Chef Seamus Mullen has had to manage both a burgeoning career as a Chef, restaurant owner and cookbook author and a serious and physically debilitating disease. Here are some of his thoughts on being one of the 50 million faces of arthritis.
Q. What was your initial thought when you were first diagnosed with arthritis?
My first thought was, "I'm never going to cook again." I didn't fully understand what rheumatoid arthritis was, and I made the mistake of looking it up on the internet the first chance I got. My immediate takeaway was that my joints were going to become totally deformed and I would never work again.
Q. How has life changed since you were diagnosed with arthritis?
It took me a long time to come to terms with it, and it's still something I am working on. I had to recognize that RA meant I had to give myself boundaries, and acknowledge that I couldn't do certain things to the extent I was used to doing them. And that's tough to come to terms with - I was young, strong, always very athletic and active. But I have realized I can't be on my feet for 15 hours a day, I can't be reckless even with simple day-to-day things like bending over to pick up a heavy pot. In the last 6 months or so, I've taken a much more serious approach to my diet, cutting out gluten entirely and really limiting my alcohol intake.
Q. What would you tell someone who just thinks arthritis is an old person’s disease?
It certainly depends on what kind of arthritis you have. But rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that can affect anyone - men, women, and most sadly, children. And what is particularly challenging with RA is that it affects so much more than just your joints. It affects your muscles, your energy level, it affects your immune system - when you have RA, if you get sick, it's 1000 times worse than it is for the average person. You are much more susceptible to infection, to anything. One of the most difficult things about RA is that we can look physically fine on the outside, but really be suffering on the inside. In that sense, there's a real need to create greater awareness about the disease. The more we can do to make the disease less "invisible," the better.
Q. What is the one thing you want the world to know about arthritis?
It is much more serious and life-threatening than anyone realizes.
Q. What is your hope for the future?
For myself, obviously I hope to continue to improve my health and keep my RA in check. I also want to continue to explore and promote the relationship between food and wellness - diet can have dramatic effects on our well-being, and it can also be really empowering. We may not be able to control the fact that we have this disease, but we CAN control what we put in our bodies, and I find that to be extremely powerful.