We all tend to pass judgment to varying degrees and in a variety of situations based upon what we see, hear, or experience. As we zoom to assume, there can be long-term repercussions that are hurtful and harmful. Share this list of 10 reasons not to judge those of us with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) with your family, friends, and colleagues to foster consideration and compassion about what it's like to live with RA.
Before you judge, you should know:
1. I am making the best decisions I know how to make in my treatment choices. In a perfect world, I wouldn't have to take medications to manage my disease. There's a good chance that I have explored all sorts of treatment options, natural remedies, and am practicing self-care techniques that are right for me.
2. I may not move too quickly because I am in pain. I may be having a flare-up, which results in stiffness, swollen joints, and tight muscles. It doesn't stop there, though. RA also affects ligaments and tendons. RA is temperamental and my mobility may change throughout the day, sometimes from hour to hour.
3. When I appear clumsy, it's not because of lack of care. I may have lost my manual dexterity due to swelling and pain. My joints may have dislocated, making it difficult to use my hands properly. And yes, that hurts. A lot.
4. If I'm irritable, I may be in a tremendous amount of pain, have had a series of bad nights, or am struggling with one of the many aspects of what living with rheumatoid arthritis means. RA has far-reaching consequences that can erode finances and the ability to work. It can even limit engagement in activities and experiences that we with RA enjoy.
5. I may not have the energy to listen/talk to you. I may seem unfriendly, but please understand that sometimes, I just don't have the energy to be fully engaged in conversation. In addition, my vocal cords may be affected by RA, and a study has shown that hearing loss can be a side-effect of some pain relievers.
6. If I seem forgetful, it could be from the side-effects of RA, and not necessarily due to lack of attention, or intention. The stress of living with RA can impact one's memory. Lack of sleep, chronic pain, and drug side-effects can erase what I store in my memory vault.
7. If my weight seems to have changed, either up or down, it could be because of the side effects of medications. For example, corticosteroids can increase hunger and result in belly fat, and a condition known as “moon face,” where the face becomes puffy. Please, as much as you’d like to comment on this (especially if it appears I’ve lost weight), refrain from commenting on my body. It’s a good practice in general to be body sensitive and not comment on other people’s body shapes, but in this case, it brings up painful reminders for me of my struggle with my weight around RA.
8. If my hair is thinning, or I seem to have hair growing in unusual places, that could be related to the medication I am taking to manage my RA.
9. When I wear unfashionable shoes, it's not a matter of choice, but out of necessity. While I would love to wear the latest styles in footwear, the agony is not worth it. When I wear comfortable, supportive shoes, I can walk farther, possibly with less pain.
10. I'm doing the best I can while living with a chronic, debilitating disease. I may seem selfish, but I need to look after myself if I wish to travel the long road with this unwanted “companion.”
There will be times when I will need to say “no” in order look after as many aspects of my health and wellness as possible. Please don’t judge me when I do. Please ask me why, and we can talk about this chronic condition so we can learn more together about RA.
Marianna Paulson is known as Auntie Stress. On her website, you'll find links to her two blogs, Auntie Stress Cafe and the award-winning, A Rheumful of Tips. When she is not helping clients (and herself) address stress, she keeps active by swimming, dog walking and taking frequent dance breaks when she is working on her computer.