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"Can We Switch Bodies?" and Other Empathy-Building Ideas

There have been so many times in my life dealing with chronic illnesses that I have wondered what it would be like to take a moment to step out of my body and trade places with someone else.

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What would that experience be like for that person welcomed into my body? Would they suddenly be overcome with a burden of symptoms in the extreme? Would they complain or accomplish as much as I have? Would they quit their job and struggle to mother, making me feel validated in my experiences? Or would they simply brush it off and say, "This isn’t bad," leaving me feeling inadequate and dramatic?

People don't understand the full picture of RA

Especially amid an RA flare — when I am using all my energy to function on the outside, but no one is wiser about what’s happening on the inside — I wonder what that would be like. It’s hard to feel like people don’t understand the full picture and may not have the most empathy or compassion when you need it most. Maybe if they spent a day in my body, they would have a little more understanding about what it is like to physically and mentally live with a chronic illness (multiple illnesses, in my case). Just maybe.

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How to build up our empathy muscles

Before I crawl down this unrealistic rabbit hole of what-ifs, I try to remember the lessons offered in this situation. I cannot control others any more than I can conjure up a Freaky Friday situation. It’s better to see the avenues in which I can learn from these not-so-helpful thoughts than the hypothetical "the grass isn’t always greener on the other side" ideation. Empathy is like a muscle; with practice, you can grow your empathy and understanding of another. I could learn from spending a day in someone else’s body as well!

Other than body switching, what are other ways I can increase empathy in my life when I am feeling disconnected from people due to rheumatoid arthritis?

Sharing experiences

Firstly, for others to understand you better, you also have to be willing to share. That is step one. Vulnerability can be so very difficult and scary sometimes.

However, when I feel disconnected, I realize that once I open up and share my struggles, most people are simply unaware of what's happening in my life. They lack information to spark empathy. In reverse, I make a conscious effort to ask about others' experiences so I can better understand them.

Being brave enough to ask for help

I am very much a self-sufficient person, sometimes to the detriment of my own health. Asking for help has always been a difficult thing for me to do, but it is vitally important to gather support when you’re living with a chronic illness.

Asking for help and inviting friends and family into your little bubble isn’t weak or desperate. It is important both physically and mentally, and it will inevitably encourage a better understanding of the trials you experience.

This or That

Do you struggle asking for help due to RA?

Advocating with all our might

On a grander scale, advocating is sharing your story to a wider and potentially more influential audience. Nothing takes more courage than standing up and saying, "This is me. And this is why you should care."

In the end, societal change and acceptance doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Instead, advocacy propels it into motion. You can advocate in small ways, such as sharing your experiences, fundraising, or voting, and also in larger ways, like influencing policymakers.

In the reverse, I feel I have a duty to those like me in similar but different situations. I owe them my listening ear, empathy, and as a result, action, to help make life living with a chronic illness easier all around.

How do you build empathy with others?

What are some ways you try to empathy-build while living with RA? Share your thoughts and ideas below!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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