RA & Acceptance: When Relatives Just Don't "Get It"

Vanessa Collins Health Guide
  • Like most of us, when I first started having pain and experiencing the fatigue of RA, I did not have a diagnosis. I am sero-negative, and I initially chose some pretty backward rheumys to see, so my diagnosis took a while.


    During this time, I was unable to attend some family functions. When I did attend, I was not my “old self”. It must have been during this time that my mother-in-law decided I was a hypochondriac. She may have thought I was keeping her son away from her because I couldn't make those trips, and my husband would not go without me.


    My MIL is one of those people who is rarely sick She is a tough woman, but has little empathy for those who are not as blessed in the health department as she.

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    My parents are elderly. They, too, have been blessed with overall good health. They seem to think I can just “take a pill”, and be better. Since they live with my husband and I, they are starting to see that is not the case.


    I am going to share a story with you about my experience with my mother-in-law so that you can fully understand what I am talking about. I imagine you will be able to relate, and have your own individual stories that demonstrate the same lack of caring and/or understanding.


    It is difficult for me to ride in car for more than 30 minutes. When I do, I pay for the excursion for two or three days. This past Mother's Day, my husband and I drove to my MIL's house, which is an hour and a half away. When we arrived, I sort of rolled out of the car seat until my feet hit the ground, and struggled up the stairs to my MIL's house.


    I limped into the kitchen where my MIL was taking up food to put on the table. Without looking at me, she said, “If you want a job, you can take up the corn and put it on the table.” There was no greeting, no “how are you”, just a command to put the corn on the table. I thought she must be having a bad day.


    In the past this would have upset me. Not this time. I am fully aware of my MIL's personality and her “ways”. I put the corn on the table and sat down by my husband. Throughout dinner, there was no conversation directed at me from my MIL. That was okay, too. I honestly just enjoyed my dinner and listened to the conversation around me.


    My husband and I gave my MIL a new television for Mother's Day. We sat it up for her and made sure the cable was connected property, etc. She did not even say thank you, but that didn't bother me either. I was mildly surprised, but I was not upset.


    After dinner, I was helping dry dishes. I started to pick up a dish to dry and my MIL told me to “leave it be.....please”. Once again, she did not even look at me. I quietly put my drying towel down and joined my husband in the living room to visit with his sister and our nieces. We had a nice visit with them, and it was a pleasant afternoon, in spite of my MIL's bad mood.


    When we were leaving, I went over to my MIL and gave her a hug. I wished her a Happy Mother's Day. The look on her face was one of shock and amazement. She had treated me poorly, and judging from her reaction to the hug, she was well aware of how rude she had been.


    I did suffer for a couple of days for making that trip to my MIL's house, but I'm still glad I went. My MIL enjoyed seeing her son.


    I believe in the old saying that two wrongs don't make a right. As long as I do the right thing, I don't worry about what others do.


    I share this story so that you can see that it is possible to become fairly immune to the lack of empathy from family members. I used to get so upset, and think there must be something wrong with me. Why don't they care? Why don't they understand that I am in a lot of pain? These were the questions that dominated my thoughts, like an old movie clip playing over and over in my mind's eye.

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    I finally got fed up with feeling insecure and wondering what was wrong with me. I decided to look at the situation from an emotional distance. That is when I realized that I had done nothing to create this lack of understanding, and apparent lack of caring.


    I decided to stop trying to please my extended family members. I am the same person I was before I was diagnosed with RA, except I have had to prioritize my life.


    I am devoted to my husband and our church family. My husband is a minister, and so I have many opportunities to offer kindness and encouragement to people I interact with every week in our church community. That is important to me, and I consider it part of my life's mission.


    My husband and I often take short trips, whenever time allows. We may stop at the state park and just walk around the lake front and talk. If we have the camera, we take pictures of wildlife. These trips usually end up with a trip to Sonic for ice cream. These are the simple pleasures in life that I most value.


    I work full time, so the leisure time I have available to me is limited. I choose to spend my time and my energy on what I value most in life. That would be my husband, and helping other people. Helping others brings me great joy, and I don't ever intend to give that up.


    There are some members of my family and some acquaintances who do not understand my RA or care to learn. I am polite to them. I hold no grudges or wish them anything but the best in their lives.


    I have chosen to lower my expectations when it comes to expecting support from these people. I have decided that they must be overwhelmed by things in their own lives, and are apparently very unhappy people.


    The story about my MIL kind of says it all. She was not kind on Mother's Day. She was not caring or understanding. I am honestly okay with that, because I did the right thing. I didn't get angry or upset with her. I did what I could to make her day pleasant, and then I joined my husband in the other room.


    Maybe the next time I see my MIL things will be different, but I am not expecting that to be the case. I will continue to be kind and open to her, but I will not be disappointed if she does not change her attitude. That is her choice. I learned a long time ago that I am responsible for myself, and no one else.


  • I care about my MIL and I will always support her. We are very different people, with very different personalities, but that is okay. I think this world would be a better place if we all could find a way to be more tolerant of each other. If we could graciously accept kindness when we find it, but not get angry when it is not offered, there would be more peace in our own hearts, and our lives would be filled with much more happiness.

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Published On: July 05, 2011