RA & Relationships: Do Not Let RA Isolate You

Vanessa Collins Health Guide
  • I sit in my living room drinking coffee and looking out at the frozen landscape every morning. Today I am acutely aware of the isolation a harsh winter can impose on all of us.


    The earth is covered with snow.  Only a few brave souls attempt to go anywhere on the ice-packed roads. 


    Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis can be just as isolating as winter.  Just as in winter, only a few brave souls are willing to venture out with us on our journey.


    It seems to me that we have two choices.  We can venture out into this world, or we can choose to remain isolated by our disease.


    We all know that Rheumatoid Arthritis is not well understood by the general public. Most people see the word “arthritis” and immediately think of osteoarthritis. 

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    Few understand that RA is systemic.  It is not the “wear and tear” arthritis most of us experience as we grow older. 


    Educating our friends and family about RA is the first step to finding understanding and maintaining relationships.  I will be the first to admit that sometimes this approach works wonderfully, but sometimes it does not work well at all.


    It hurts when we realize that people we thought were our friends do not want to take the time to understand.  When I encounter this attitude, I move on.  I refuse to let anyone steal my joy.


    When I was still able to work, I was away from home for 11 hours a day, 5 days a week.  I didn’t have a lot of time for socializing, but I did have “work friends”.


    Eventually, I found that I was not able to work any longer.  Now that I am at home every day, I have discovered that many of my work friendships were superficial.  They did not withstand the test of chronic illness.


    The good news is that I have made new friends.  I have more time to spend with people now, and that has been a blessing in its own right.


    Of course, RA is unpredictable.  My new friends understand that.  They realize that I cannot firmly commit to any future function.  They know that I will do my best to participate, but that I am not just being rude, if I fail to show up.


    It is always a good practice to call your friends ahead of time, if you think you will not be able to keep your commitment.  I do my best to not leave my friends hanging.


    Calling as soon as you realize you are not going to be able to attend a function shows respect for your friends’ time.  Respect is an essential part of any human relationship.


    Sometimes staying in touch with friends and family by phone is a good choice.  My RA is very active right now.  I do not have a lot of energy.  Sometimes all I can do is shower and cook dinner.  Sometimes, I am not able to do that.


    If you find yourself flaring and feeling overwhelmed with fatigue, you can still communicate with people.  Communicating by phone is easy and can be very rewarding. 


    My best friend and I talk to each other a couple of times a week.  We are never lacking in things to share.  I usually end up laughing until my belly hurts.  Laughter is such good medicine.


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    There are many RA support groups available online.  It is a great feeling to be able to talk to others who already know what living with Rheumatoid Arthritis means.


    RA support group members understand your pain and your fatigue.  They also understand how important it is to celebrate victories.


    Online friends enjoy celebrating good news with you.  Optimism and laughter are contagious, and essential.  Many times these online relationships lead to life-long friendships.


    Living with RA is not easy.  Maintaining relationships with family and friends is not easy.  Nothing worth having is ever easy.


    Please do not let RA or any other chronic illness keep you from the joy of friends and family.  Venture out in whatever way you can.  If things don’t go well in one instance, just move on.  


    Do not hold grudges or nurture “hurts.”  Do not waste energy on negative things.  There are good people out there who would feel blessed by your friendship.  It won’t always be easy, but it will always be worth your effort.

Published On: February 11, 2014