alt=a woman copes with fear, looking out at a scary landscape with a bright path running through it.

Coping with RA Fear

Last updated: August 2022

Recently, I was sitting in the waiting room of one of my doctors’ offices, and I whispered to my husband Richard, “I’m not scared. I’m terrified.” He reached over to pat my back and comfort me, which was exactly what I needed in the moment.

I was quoting from Piglet in the recent Christopher Robin film when he is running in terror from what he fears is a monster called a Heffalump. It’s a powerful confession of his fear, which thankfully turns out to be unjustified. There was a lesson to be learned from that moment: sometimes admitting your fear to someone else can provide relief.

RA fears can be overwhelming

There are many times in my life with rheumatoid arthritis that I have been afraid. Sometimes it is a fear of uncertainty and not knowing what the future holds: Will I feel better? Will I get worse? Will this specific issue heal? Will I be able to do the things that I enjoy? Other times it is an acute fear: Will this pain go away or at least lessen? Will I recover from this surgery? Will this injury get better? And then, there are a lot of related fears about relationships changing and enduring or handling all the emotional challenges of living with the disease.

I’m sorry to say there is a lot to fear in a life with RA. It isn’t easy, and sometimes there are critical situations where we have to face temporary or long-term painful challenges or recoveries. There will be losses of abilities, relationships, and aspects of our lives that we treasured.

Talk about the things that scare you

I have found that it is always better to face the fear head-on. Sometimes the worst thing is the fear (but not always because the pain sucks). Fear is the thing that can haunt us the most and hold us back.

I need to voice my fears; I can often debunk a lot of them by doing so. For example, I’m afraid my kneecap will fall off because it hurts so much. Then I’ll have to stick it back on with superglue and tape. OK, I’m being just a bit silly. But when I say it out loud, I realize my skin will (hopefully) keep my kneecap on and that I don’t need to spend any more energy on this fear.

It helps me to articulate my greatest fears about a situation like when I’m having a health crisis. In that situation, it helps to talk about what I’m most worried about. If I list them out, I realize that most of my fears are unlikely, and it lifts a burden of worry from my heart.

I will overcome any challenges I face

If I then share these fears with my spouse, he can also help reason out what we would do to handle them and how we would navigate toward a resolution. When he doesn’t know either, he’ll say, “we’ll find a way because we always do.”

Perhaps this is the most helpful reminder: After reflecting on my life, which has had plenty of health challenges, I remember that I have always found a way. I may be afraid, but I will find a path and get through it. It may be hard and I may fear the unknown of what will happen, but I will endure.

Coping with fear is hard, but not impossible

Fear has a way of stopping me in my tracks. It interferes with my ability to find a solution or get help for a problem, just because I am feeling fear. If I manage that fear, I realize the only way to get better or deal with the issue is to take action. Once I understand and deal with the fear, I can take steps to address the situation and find a path through it.

Coping with RA fear is hard. It may be the most difficult thing about this disease because it can be overwhelming. It can make mountains out of molehills or, in Piglet’s case, Heffalumps out of friends. It can trick us or get us stuck when we need to press forward, but once we face it, fear fades, and we can find a way to get on with life.

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