Don't Complain to Me
Last updated: September 2015
Do you every have one of those days when you just don’t want to hear other people’s gripes?
You’re in pain and your joints feel like they are on fire. You can’t grip your pen or take a step without limping. Someone remarks off the cuff: “oh my arm is achy from some sports injury.” And you just want to tell them to shut up (or punch them, but that would hurt yourself too much).
Let’s just say hearing other people’s complaints can feel frustrating when you have RA.
When I was a child in school, I spent a lot of time in the nurse’s office for visits to take medication or do my physical therapy sessions. Basically, I was there as much as the nurse and would hear the comings and goings of the students. Like all kids, many tried to escape class with bellyaching. I’ll never forget the day the nurse turned to me and said: “it must be so hard to hear all these silly complaints when you actually do have to deal with pain and physical limitations.” I was stunned, because I had never really considered it.
I think everyone has days they are feeling bad. We all have complaints. I know for a fact that I can talk my husband’s ear off with silly, meaningless griping. I usually don’t begrudge listening to others and swapping stories of frustration.
But sometimes I do hit my limit. A comparison is when my knee is swollen to the size of a basketball and someone whines about a paper cut. I am not exaggerating by much.
When I’m taking the elevator because I physically cannot use the stairs or escalator, I get irritated when people wearing exercise clothes jam into an over packed elevator with the complaint that “it’s just easier” for them. What about those of us who have no choice? If I were able, I would love to take the stairs. I think it’s horrible that I have to fight for what I need, when these people are acting merely out of convenience.
These are the situations that are exhausting for people with RA. We are just trying to get through the day along with coping with pain, stiffness, and all the other delights of the disease. We have a full plate and not a lot of capacity to deal with extraneous bull.
When I come home exhausted from the day and stressed about some ridiculous situation, I remind myself that I lived for two months with no knee. I have had four joint replacements and a revision. I have lived with chronic pain every day for more than 36 years. All the other complaints or petty problems that people lay on me cannot compare.
It’s all about perspective and knowing that I cannot take on other people’s problems. I will help those I care about. But honestly, I have to prioritize. With a chronic condition like RA, I already have an overflowing plate. First, I have to manage my illness and then I can support others.
Sometimes I think our loneliness comes from other people fundamentally not understanding the challenges we live with every day, the limits of our energy and bodies, and the fact that petty gripes are just too exhausting to pile on top. They don’t like for us to say “no” or that we can’t listen to their whining. Sometimes we just have to say “don’t complain to me, I cannot take it because I have more than enough to handle.”
I think it’s OK and even good to set limits. When something is petty or unnecessary, it’s OK to tune it out or just say no. As much as we may want to be there for others, we also need to take care of ourselves.
Did you know rheumatologist Dr. Donica Baker is answering community questions?
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