‘It feels like there’s a heavy golf ball lodged in my knee’ - Hebden Bridge student's agony living with arthritis

A student from Hebden Bridge who suffers from arthritis has thrown her support behind a new campaign to show an accurate portrayal of chronic pain in TV and film.

By Abigail Kellett
Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 7:00 am
Kalifa Cuben.
Kalifa Cuben.

Kalifa Cuben 21, lives with seronegative rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-immune disease which affects her joints and causes her immense pain.

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She describes the condition like “it feels like there’s a heavy golf ball lodged in my knee”.

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Kalifa was diagnosed with the condition at 17.

Every day she experiences the hidden pain of arthritis.

She said: “Sometimes people think it’s not that bad until they see the impact with their own eyes, like being unable to walk down steps; being bedridden with a flare up; or feeling the horrific side effects of your medication.

“Once I was on holiday with my boyfriend in Edinburgh and the cold weather meant we couldn’t go out for dinner one night, because the pain was so overwhelming.

“I remember just crying on the bus at one point. That’s when he realised how bad it was.”

Experiences like Kalifa’s are rarely shown or depicted accurately on TV or film screens. But for over 18 million people in the UK with chronic pain – of which arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions are one of the biggest causes – this is their day-to-day reality.

Absence of chronic pain on screen is making people feel ignored and enabling misconceptions about arthritis to continue. All this stops people from speaking up and getting the help they need.

That’s why Kalifa is supporting the charity Versus Arthritis in launching The Painful Truth: A Guide to Depicting Chronic Pain on Screen.

For the first time, guidance for the TV and film industry aims to bring an increased and more accurate portrayal of chronic pain.

“I have never witnessed an accurate portrayal of my pain on TV,” said Kalifa.

“Not seeing representation makes me feel alienated and almost as if my pain is not valid.

“‘Pain’ is typically related to physical injury, labour, grieving, mental illnesses and never as long-term chronic pain.

“When long-term pain is depicted, it is often through an elderly character, which reinforces the assumption that long-term pain is linked to old age.”