When starting a new relationship, friendship or even employment, do you tell them about your ‘condition’? The question that keeps popping up in my mind as many people often write to me and ask for advice on this. The truth is, I am completely unsure myself. It’s something that shouldn’t put people off dating you, however, the sad thing is I know that it does. But only people who are shallow or have no concept of how to deal with difference.
I have had experience if it in the past, not recently, but I made the mistake in thinking that everyone is capable of compassion and understanding when it comes to something you have no control over. There are some very shallow people in this world. They surround us every day, seeking out perfection that frankly doesn’t exist. You shouldn’t have to hide who you are in terms of your RA and how it makes you different, but at the same time RA doesn’t define us as people. It’s not the first thing you mention when you meet someone in the street, or the first thing you tell a waitress or a car salesman. Mainly because you don’t see it, it is invisible. Where it gets complicated is withholding the truth. Lying about your situation, it doesn’t need to be done. If you feel you have to lie then you must not feel comfortable with that person.
With friendships, things are a little easier because friends should be friends no matter what, they are not judging you on the same basis a potential partner would. It shouldn’t matter to them how long it takes you to get dressed in the morning or that you can’t do a particular activity because of your disability. If someone won’t befriend you or judges you because of having a chronic illness, they don’t deserve to be in your life anyway. Ask yourself, would it matter to me if any of my friends were in that situation? I am sure your response will be as mine, a big, fat no. This rule should really also apply to potential partners. As yourself, do you want to be with someone who cannot see past what you have? Do you want to be with someone who is put off by an illness and how it might affect their lives, as opposed to wanting to be with you and help you through it? What about the future, I mean, if that person can’t accept something like RA, how would they feel about something terrible like cancer? Chances are they probably wouldn’t support you through that either. So that should tell you that deep down, that is not a good person, and definitely not a person you want to be in a relationship with.
Anyway during the excitement of getting to know someone and dating there is nothing scarier than having to reveal something about yourself you feel might scare the person you like away. This could be anything though, like the car you drive, the job you do or revealing some embarrassing photos from your past. But if you are confident and comfortable with who you are and what you have, then it doesn’t have to be a big deal. It doesn’t have to be something huge and shocking. I know it’s easy to say that but I have got to the point in my life where I am comfortable with who and what I am and if people don’t like it... well they know what they can do.
OK so having something like RA or a chronic illness or a disability or whatever means you are different. But different is good. The way I see it, you are even more special. You are special because of the fight you have to live a normal life each day. You are special because you are brave despite the pain and sadness you may feel sometimes. You are special because you hold your head up high and present a smile even in the darkest of times. If anyone is smart enough to know how special you are then they might be lucky enough to keep you.
People I talk to are often intrigued and very interested in what my condition means to me, how I overcome things, how I battle through to live a normal life. And when I talk about what I have overcome to be where I am today, people are impressed. It is impressive, and shows great strength of character and confidence when you are able to talk about something like that openly, because it’s not every day you meet interesting people with stories to tell. Stories that people admire. As you grow older, and I don’t mean to get all wisdom based on you now as I know I am still young, you realise that looks and physical things are not the most vital thing about what attracts you to someone. It becomes more about the whole package, your personality, your strength of character, your confidence, your achievements etc.
I say this because I know a lot of you who are reading may still be at school or at college or at the stage where people can be judgemental because you are different... It might not be as easy for other people to understand because they haven’t experienced much of life yet and don’t appreciate other peoples’ feelings as much as you do when you grow up. Kids can be mean, I know, I was picked on (not massively) but for stupid things when I was in school especially by boys and its humiliating and makes you feel ugly and horrible about yourself. The thing to remember is that you as a whole will be a better person in the future because of what you are going through right now, and those who sit around and judge what they know nothing about will probably not get very far in life anyway.
When you grow up, you will realise what is important and it’s not all about how someone looks or how they dress or even how they walk or talk, what’s important is the type of person you are, what you do with your time and how you treat others. Someone who appreciates these things is the type of partner you should be looking for, and if he looks like Brad Pitt that’s just a bonus (wink wink).
The same principle should apply for employers. I know that your RA may affect your ability to do some types of jobs but you will know your own capabilities and probably won’t go for something that you know you can’t possibly do, or you will figure out a way that you can do it prior to applying. So whilst it is important to let your employer, or potential employers know about what you have because of all sorts of legal reasons as well as moral ones, they should not base their decision to employ you on that factor. It should be about your suitability for that job and whether you can do it well. They won’t be looking at your appearance, they will be looking for experience so use your positive stories of strength and overcoming daily challenges just to live as reasons why you stand above others for that role. You will have probably experienced more challenges in your life, even at a young age, than most just for living with a chronic condition. So as you should in most situations, don’t dwell on what restrictions you have, but what having the condition has given you, the skills you have learnt, the strength and confidence you have built because you are a fighter. Any good employer should see that you stand out for a good reason, not because of your limitations.
And once again we go back to relationships. You stand out from the crowd because you are different. Because you are special. Because of what you have to do each day to survive and function. Someone special will see that you are amazing, and beautiful because of what you have overcome, and anyone else isn’t really worth bothering with.