Sometimes, rheumatoid arthritis pops up where you least expect it, and I’m not just talking about the flares. Most of us have come to accept that RA isn’t a very well known disease, and that many people simply don’t know a thing about it. Much to my dismay, I learned this fact pretty quickly after I was diagnosed.
As soon as the words ‘I have rheumatoid arthritis’ were uttered, an explanation was quick to follow since inevitably, they had no idea what RA was, or worse, mistook it for osteoarthritis.It’s bad enough being sick, but being sick with a disease people don’t understand makes it feel ten times worse (or so I’ve come to believe). The frustration that often follows has spawned many a blog post, including my own about being stuck with what I have deemed a ‘Loser Disease.’
Three years into my journey with RA, I’ve reached a point where the frustration has receded to the backseat, and I have come to expect a degree of obscurity when it comes to what ails me. Ever anticipating that people won’t know what rheumatoid arthritis is, I’ve even developed a bit of an elevator speech, complete with a few catch phrases to describe RA and differentiate it from what most people think about when they hear the word ‘arthritis.’ Every now and then, I come across a person who actually knows what it is without me having to explain, such as my yoga teacher, and this always takes me pleasantly by surprise. It feels like a breath of fresh air when I realize I don’t have to launch into my spiel and can save that energy for something else.
But as I have discovered, there can be an upside to having a disease that remains mostly under the radar. When the topic of your disease is one you are trying to avoid, or at least deemphasize in your life, not having something like The Big C makes this a little easier to accomplish. In fact, I have gotten so accustomed to having a D-List disease that when it does pop up publicly, I feel a bit unprepared and taken aback.
Every time a commercial for an RA drug comes on TV, I become hyperaware of it. The never-ending list of horrible side effects gets stuck in my head on repeat like a bad song. It always changes my mood and makes me feel oddly self-conscious, even if I am all by myself. I simply don’t expect rheumatoid arthritis to come up unless I bring it up.
So imagine my discomfort when, while getting ready to head out for the day in Charleston on vacation with my boyfriend, the RA-bomb exploded without any warning.
My boyfriend had turned on the Discovery Channel TV show Deadliest Catch, all about extreme fishing, as I finished getting ready. In this particular episode, one of the young men on board the boat had received some very bad news from ashore- his younger sister had died. I was standing in the hotel room brushing my hair and watching the program along with him.They flashed a picture of the young woman onto the screen as her brother spoke of all the pain she had been in ever since she was a child, and suddenly, as if I had a sixth sense, I knew what was coming next . . . there was a pause, and then her brother said that she had had rheumatoid arthritis, and launched into his own elevator speech explaining RA.