Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Excuse me?

Excuse me?

It seems lately that I am continually encountering people who simply know nothing about RA. Normally that does not phase me one way or the other.  I often take the opportunity to educate them a bit (how much depends entirely on the circumstances) and for me that has always been the perfect way to respond without being too overpowering.  Don’t get me wrong.  The temptation to go on at length about the specifics of RA can be pretty strong. I have worked very hard over the years to overcome this desire to the point that it really does not even enter the picture anymore.  I am content to simply give my “elevator speech” version and move on, content in the knowledge that at least one more person now has at least a basic knowledge of RA, however simplistic it may be.  Further it reassures me to consider that if that person runs into someone with RA down the road they will at least know what RA is and spare them the same blank looks.

But of late, the level of ignorance and the corresponding remarks are eliciting some really angry feelings in me that I have not experienced before.  Are they new or have I just developed a thin skin (literally and figuratively I am afraid) about this?  Not sure to be honest.  Maybe having this disease for 20 years now has means that the accumulation of ignorant responses has pushed me to a new level.  Perhaps it is just that people are more outspoken about their ideas and are simply less courteous.  Finally, could it be that they actually enjoy bating people about their illnesses?

That is what it felt like when I was in a doctors office a while back and someone asked, politely enough it seemed, why I was being seen.  I assumed they just wanted to engage in some simple conversation.  What came to light fairly soon was that this person felt that RA was not nearly as severe as I thought it was.  It was after all, “just arthritis”.  They seemed to have some basic knowledge of RA but did not understand, or care to for that matter, that it was autoimmune in nature.  What does that mean? they asked in a nasty tone.  I started to give my best “elevator speech” but to no avail.  I sensed that this person wanted to transfer some anger to someone, anyone and I was a convenient target.  I tried to patiently resume my explanation but they would have none of it.  They started on a rant about people abusing and overloading the system and essentially making up problems when there are people out there dying of “real” diseases like cancer.  I took some deep breaths, decided that this conversation was going nowhere fast, there was no hope of changing this person’s mind and simply excused myself.

To be honest, that tactic felt great at the time.  But later I wished I had been a bit more emphatic about the true nature and scope of RA.  I was mad at myself for letting them off the hook by leaving and not sticking around and trying harder to get through to them.  This was the first time I had any regrets about how I handled a situation like this.  I fantasied about saying back to them “EXCUSE ME! but you have NO IDEA what RA is or how it effects my life every minute of every day!  EXCUSE ME but RA is a painful, progressive, life changing disease that takes a mighty toll on my life.  EXCUSE ME but try not to be so rude and judgmental the next time you meet someone with RA!”  Just the thought of saying all of that was kind of freeing.

That is when my good sense took hold again and I realized I would not change a thing.  By responding in kind I would have been just as rude as that person was.  And of course we all know that any educating I might have hoped to accomplish would be gone, replaced by new and even angrier conclusions they would grab unto all but ensuring a continuation of any resentment, appropriate or not, that they have.  Finally, I also realized that most likely this person is in the midst of a very difficult time either for themselves or someone they care deeply about.  That can influence the way you respond to any type of situation.  I am choosing to give them the benefit of the doubt and by so doing I am following my own principles of civil behavior.

Not long after this situation I had a similar, though far less intense, comment made and simply by working through my potential response from the last time I was nonplussed, even invoking the “you catch more bees with honey” strategy.  I smiled and simply said that perhaps looking into the facts about RA, easily available in print, online, etc., they might better understand the true nature and avoid jumping to conclusions that might be offensive.  They reacted quite nicely saying they never intended to say anything hurtful but they surely could understand how it might be taken that way. They insisted they would not be so presumptuous in the future and thanked me for being so kind in responding.  Well… that was sure nice.

I have a whole new outlook on how best to deal with these types of situations.  I suspect that from time to time I may still revisit my “fantasy response” but only in private.

Mission accomplished.

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

Comments

  • niser67
    2 years ago

    I’m not one to discuss my personal issues. But the time had come for me to speak up to my very close group of friends. What had happened is that I was no longer able to keep up with friends like I used to. Though it was a difficult move for me I had to give them and explanation and it went something like this…I love you guys but I have to choose my battles. The disease I have has zapped me of my energy. The energy I do have has to be for work and my family. I then when on to let them know I had RA and had been battling it for years but now it had the best of me. The response I received was less than favorable and not supportive. I was reminded that I am the oldest person in our group of friends so of course I’d be the first to start complaining about “old people” stuff which was also accompanied by laughter. Only one person caught the shock and disappointment on my face. The pain I felt that night was right up there with one of my worse flare up days. I’m not confrontational, so I let it lie. I have chosen to spend quality time and make memories with those who want to understand what I’m going through. It’s been a difficult few years but I’m making the best of it.

  • lisamechele
    3 years ago

    I was in the anger phase for quite a long time. To this day when someone asks “did you hurt your wrist?” (when wearing a brace at work) and I reply “Rheumatoid Arthritis”… I get that “arthritis already? You’re too young” or “yeah look at my finger” sort of stuff. If one day I can’t lift my right arm due to a flare, some co-workers compare their workout aches and pains. When I have to handwrite something, I look as though I’m in Kindergarten and its embarrassing if I have to do it in front of someone. If I yawn or look worn out, it’s the “you must have stayed up late” sort of spiel. Only my family and close friends know how bad it can be, and that’s enough for me. They cared enough to listen, do research, and yes, often give their armchair quarterback doctor advice. Those are the people who matter to me and nobody else aside from my God and fellow RA (and related AI) sufferers.

  • Jillian S moderator
    3 years ago

    Lisamechele,
    It sounds like you have really figured out how to escape the “anger phase”- what an accomplishment. It is impossible to expect everyone to understand how or why you feel a certain way let alone what RA even is! You are certainly not alone with your experiences with ignorant comments. Thought you might appreciate this article: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/8-things-not-to-say-to-someone-who-has-ra/
    Like you said, as long as your family and close friends understand, that is all that matters!
    Best,
    Jillian (RA.net Team)

  • Linda
    4 years ago

    I am still stuck at the anger phase of the disease and admittedly do not handle stupid comments well. I recently had a very old friend, OK friend is pushing it, someone I used to work with, tell, me, head tilted in a pitying angle “At our age we all have our little aches and pains when we get up dear”. I wanted to throw something at her and at least inform the whole party that she has 15 years on me, but choked myself off. I am going to start calling it Rheumatoid Disease like some have suggested and never say the A word. It makes people think all you have is OA. Granted, I have OA in my knees and that is pretty painful enough, but it doesn’t have a scratch on RA. I think I am going to print up cards that just say “Excuse me, you don’t have a clue. Please go home, Google RA and then we’ll talk. Until then, get the bloody crap away from me. Yeah. Anger issues. Working on it.

  • DeborahK
    4 years ago

    I hear you! I’ve had RA since I was 8 years old – 29 years now. I feel like I’ve spent my life educating other people about RA. The thing that makes me crazy is when someone finds out I have RA and immediately tells me I should eliminate sugar, gluten, dairy, meat, etc. from my diet, because they’ve read somewhere that these foods (whatever particular foods they’re saying I should eliminate) are bad for arthritis. I’ve also had more than one person tell me that “autoimmune disorders are all about attitude; you just need to turn your attitude around!” To those people, I say, “If having a good attitude helped RA, I’d be cured by now.” Then walk away. And I just politely thank the food commentators for their input and walk away. I am happy to educate someone who doesn’t know about RA, but I can’t stand it when they try to educate me without knowing anything about it!

  • Nan Hart moderator author
    4 years ago

    So true Deborah! It takes so much patience to deal with the ignorance but I try to tell myself that by doing it there is one more person (and by extension many more hopefully) who now know the reality of RA! take care and thanks for the feedback.

  • Maryroberts3
    4 years ago

    I so hear you., I’ve had RA since 1992. I’m a hairstylist, who has has ovarian cancer in 2009. When they opened me up, my surgeon though I was a goner. Long story short everything she thought was cancer except the ovarian tuner was RA. Unfortunately our doctors can’t tell us what our insides look like. My RA is systemic. I have clients say the same the same thing to me arthritis is arthritis, some will listen and others don’t want to know why I can’t work a full day. I usually just move on but ask them if their doctors went them on disability for their ‘arthritis’. Sometimes it stops them, and they become more understanding. Some just don’t want to hear because they are selfish. What matters most to me is the understanding from family and friends.
    Thank you for sharing your story. Mary

  • Nan Hart moderator author
    4 years ago

    Mary you sure have been through a lot! And you are so on target about family and friends. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Take care!

  • Elsa
    4 years ago

    I’m in my 60’s, diagnosed at age 13, so in my lifetime I’ve had numerous encounters with people ignorant of RA. Because my deformities can no longer be hidden, people are at least aware that whatever it is I do have, it’s severe, so I don’t have to deal with anybody trying to minimize it. What is common in my encounters is that strangers feel prompted to tell me all the details of their aches and pains of arthritis. Generally it’s “you know sometimes this little finger hurts SO much!”.. I do a mental eye-roll, nod my head a lot, and escape as soon as possible!

  • Nan Hart moderator author
    4 years ago

    Elsa I totally hear you. I get that a lot as well. I do find that sometimes (depends on my mood, pain level, patience, etc.) I will take the time to do a quick snippet of what RA really is. thanks for your feedback.

  • Grace
    4 years ago

    Being more newly diagnosed, I don’t yet have an “elevator speech”, and would be curious what others use. I’m still finding it too complicated myself to be able to whittle it down adequately.

  • Nan Hart moderator author
    4 years ago

    Grace here is what I say: RA is a chronic, progressive, inflammatory autoimmune disease that effects joints primarily. If there is any interest beyond that I will go on to say that RA is a sister to other diseases more widely known like diabetes and asthma also autoimmune in nature and IS NOT the same as osteoarthritis which is the more common wear and tear one that most are familiar with. Some times that prompts questions. If not I at least feel they know the basics.

  • Lucy
    4 years ago

    I enjoyed reading this article – really resonated with me and a recent interaction I had. I keep trying to educate folks with my version of the ‘elevator speech’ but I usually feel I did not change anyone’s thoughts or perceptions. I have lived with this disease for 45 years and it never gets easier, does it?

  • Nan Hart moderator author
    4 years ago

    No I guess it does not Lucy but since I have assimilated what I want to say and the reasons behind folks not knowing it does not bother me as much anymore. I just move on.

  • Kellie
    4 years ago

    Clearly the first person you talked to was not really even talking about you. Someone they love or themself has cancer and is having problems getting treatment. Angry at the system and taking it out on the closet person. I am glad you didn’t respond angrily. I think what you said was great.

  • Janicew
    2 years ago

    and if we ALL would stop calling it Rheumatoid ARTHRITIS and call it Rheumatoid Disease, some of the association with arthritis would wear off and we wouldn’t have to put up with as many comparisons. I will never say RA again, Only RD. Help yourself, help all of us and stop saying RA.

  • Nan Hart moderator author
    4 years ago

    thanks Kellie. I appreciate your feedback

  • Poll