For Maggie Yaddof, learning at age 16 that her all-over pain was due to juvenile arthritis was a blow. This determined young woman – then a high school student in Ridgefield, Wash. – turned to poetry to deal with her disease. As youth honoree for last year’s Arthritis Walk in Vancouver, Maggie gained attention for her poignant poems about living with arthritis. Arthritis Today caught up with her, now 18 and a freshman studying science at the University of Washington, to glean insight into her inspiration.

Arthritis Today: What was your reaction to your diagnosis?

Maggie: I had no idea what it was. I realized what it meant only when I saw that my mom was crying. I was kind of relieved to have a diagnosis, that my pain had a cause. But when I figured out what it would do to me, I was frustrated.

AT: How did you turn your frustration into something positive?

Maggie: I started to look at things from a different perspective. Like what to wear to prom. When I realized I couldn’t wear high heels, it was upsetting. Then I looked at it from a different perspective: I saw that the whole prom experience wouldn’t be that different because I couldn’t wear high heels.

AT: How has volunteering for the Arthritis Foundation affected you?

Maggie: At one of our first Arthritis Walk planning meetings, I was one of four or five people in the room who had an autoimmune form of arthritis. One was an older woman, but one was a child younger than me. It was reassuring that I was not the only one having these experiences.

AT: What does writing poetry do for you?

Maggie: I always looked at writing poetry as a hobby. But when I started experiencing this disease, I often had trouble sleeping – I was hurting or I was thinking or my medications were keeping me awake. Poetry helped me relax. Most of my poetry recently has been about my arthritis.

AT: How does it feel sharing your personal poetry with others?

Maggie: I really like knowing that I’m having an impact. I’ve met people who’ve inspired me to make changes in my life. It’s nice knowing I’m that person who’s inspiring other people.