I didn’t learn to walk until I was nearly two years old. My mother, who had been hit by a car and had her leg in plaster for many months, didn’t worry about it. It was much easier for her that I wasn’t mobile. When I did learn to walk, I developed a ‘click’ in my ankle. It didn’t hurt, it didn’t bother me physically at all. The only time it became a problem (for me) was when I was trying to sneak around the house at night. Then Mum would hear my clicking ankle and yell, "Katherine! Go back to bed!"
At school, when asked to sit on the floor, I sat with my legs in a W shape, with my feet stuck out beside me. I found it supremely comfortable, but my friends screamed with pain when they tried to do the same. Adults just smiled and called it ‘strange’. My ability to put my left thumb in and out of joint, as well as being able to bend over and put my hands flat on the floor without bending my knees, were also just smiled at, though my friends thought they were really neat tricks.
At sport I was an absolute klutz. I couldn’t understand how other kids could do fancy jumps and leap so high in the air. For me, once my feet left the ground, they left me too. I had no idea where they were. So learning to dive off the edge of the swimming pool proved absolutely impossible. I’d land in the water like a many-branched log, no matter how hard I tried.
Athletics time at school was the bane of my life. When I set off in a race, my ‘clicky’ ankle would drop out of joint and then ram back in as my foot hit the ground. Needless to say, that hurt a fair bit and I’d hobble the rest of the way. High-jumping was as impossible as diving, as was long jump. The Cross Country Run, held annually, left me in agony for days. I wasn’t thin, so my pain was put down to ‘lack of fitness’ and I accepted that, even though I frequently went on long walks and didn’t do any less sport than my siblings, who didn’t seem to suffer.
Throughout my teenage years, I spent weeks on end with my wrists bandaged to ease the ‘tendonitis’ caused by playing volleyball, basketball, softball – any sort of ball really! Even after I’d left school, anything that required repetitive use of my wrists and arms left me with swollen joints. I put up with it. It was just ‘me’.
At last, when I was in my forties and suffering from fingers that felt as if an elephant had trodden on them, I stopped putting up with it and went to a rheumatologist, who made an announcement that changed my life. I had Hypermobility Syndrome. I’d never heard of it. But as I read up about it, I realised I was not a klutz. My aching joints were not solely down to unfitness. There was a reason for it all. I was not a freak. These days, teachers of preschool children are told to watch out for kids who sit like I did, so that they can be given the correct exercises to strengthen their muscles. I hope teachers take that seriously.
Knowing that I’m hypermobile, I can now take precautions to stop things getting to the pain stage. I know when something is likely to send my joints on strike. It’s still just ‘me’ – not an ‘illness’ I dwell on and feel sorry for myself about. But it’s so nice to know that there’s a medical reason for all this. It’s good too, now that I’m older, to be so much more flexible than others my age (I can still put my hands flat on the floor, despite slipped discs in my lower back - but I don't). And despite what the experts say, my fine motor skills were not affected by my gross motor deficits. They’ve always more than made up for any ‘klutziness’ I may have had.