I’ve been thinking about this post for a while. In fact, probably since the day I was diagnosed, I have wanted to share these thoughts with you. If you read my posts regularly then you’re probably aware that I tend to focus on the frustrations of living with RA and trying to make my negative experiences into positive ones. However, I feel the need to share this post in support of all the people who suffer with long term illness, be it RA or something else you know you will be carrying with you for your entire life.
Now, many who know me will agree that I am not the most tactful of people when it comes to saying the right thing. I am not gifted, like some I know, in being able to always say something constructive or make others feel better no matter what the situation. We’ve all been there, where a friend or loved one has just shared some bad news or is having a rough time for whatever reason. There comes this wave of pressure over you prompting you to say something that will take the pain away. The truth is, there isn’t really anything one can say to make it all better. The only thing one can do is offer their support and comfort and the most comforting thing in times of need is just knowing someone is there for you.
However, throughout the past few years living with RA, I have noticed a few less than comforting questions or responses that can really be frustrating, and even upsetting. I don’t expect the world to know what I am going through, or the ins and outs of my disease. I would like to think that when I was diagnosed and shared the news with my loved ones that they perhaps wanted to do their own research into my disease to get a sense of what I am dealing with, if they didn’t feel comfortable asking me personally, I mean. I have nothing to hide from my friends and family, and I am even happy to share my experiences with those I don’t know if it means providing a little comfort to someone. What is frustrating is having to explain yourself every time you feel a bit rough or down and having to teach others again and again about what RA means. Living with RA is hard, very hard. There is so much physical and emotional pain to deal with every single day. It doesn't go away. It's considered in everything you do and, as such, life choices are very difficult and much more complex.
I am not sure if this is down to the whole ‘you don’t look sick’ fiasco, where because you look reasonably normal or healthy everyone presumes you have been cured and are then confused or skeptical if you mention you are not well the following day. The upsetting thing is feeling like people don't believe you. If you knew the smallest amount about RA then you would know it doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t plan out its reign of terror according to your calendar. It doesn’t intentionally set out to mean you can’t attend a special event or hang out with friends (although sometimes I do wonder about this…). RA is unpredictable. One day you can feel OK and cope very well with little pain and just a few hours later you may experience crippling pain and have a knee the size of your head (true story for me this week). It just happens. I am sure I have said this over and over again but I wonder if anyone is listening sometimes when I am faced with the same old questions.
Here’s just one example…
I tell someone ‘I’m having a bit of a flare up and struggling at the mo’
Responses… ‘Oh, how come?’ ‘What’s brought that on?’
Well, if I knew that then I’d be a rich woman and I would know how to prevent flares wouldn't I? As above, RA just does. I don’t know why it happens, I don’t do anything to ‘bring it on’ and to be honest I don’t know how to respond to this question without wanting to scream or cry sometimes. The solution to this could be to talk with your loved ones and explain that questions of this type are frustrating and upsetting to you. Explain that as someone battling a crippling disease every waking minute of every day it’s only adding to the fight when you feel those you love most just don’t understand, and more importantly don’t seem to want to understand. A quick Internet search will share with you the basics of RA in just a few minutes and explain to you even a little of what living with RA means. I know for certain that if a loved one came to me and, God forbid, shared news of a diagnosis I knew nothing about, the first thing I would do is try and find out about it to help my understanding and be more confident in talking to my friend about it.
Get well soon. Another well intended wish from a loved one that can come as a huge blow to someone who has a long term condition. Whist well intentioned and a lovely gesture to bestow on someone, it’s simply not going to happen to someone with an auto immune disease, and many other diseases. You won’t get well soon, you will never be ‘well’ as such, there are just good days and bad. It may seem pedantic but It’s so important to someone who is living with this fight every day that they feel comforted by those they love, that they feel a level of mutual understanding. The same applies if a friend is having a problem, whatever it may be. I am sure they would want you to comfort them in their time of need and not have to explain the ins and outs of ‘why’ something has happened. Does it really matter how or why something has happened? Surely the point is how that something has made you feel and what support you need to get through it. Most of the time a simple, ‘I am here for you’ is all you need, and I am luckily to get this response more often than not from my loved ones which is of great comfort to me.
If I can share one piece of advice to anyone reading this it’s to develop an understanding of your loved ones lives. This goes for anything, whether it be to find out a little more about the job they do, or perhaps they have a family member who is sick and it would help them to talk about it? Perhaps they want a child and are struggling to conceive? Or perhaps they have a medical condition you know nothing about? We’d all be a little bit closer and have more respect for each other if people were more this way inclined. I vow to take my own advice here and hope to find out a little more about the people in my life and their secret battles.