A perturbed/annoyed man standing in front of a series of speech bubbles giving unrequested family advice.

RA & the "F" Word - Family

Rheumatoid arthritis is hard on a patient. I mean, I know, understatement of the year, but still, true. The thing is, sometimes we forget what it’s like for those around us, those who deal with our illness every day but don’t ever get a diagnosis for themselves. Some of these amazing caregivers we can’t live without. Some, well, it’s a bag of mixed nuts on a good day.

Our families react to our RA differently

Ahh, family. The people who are close to us. Neighbors, friends, cell-mates – whoever are the people you count as your closest and dearest, these are the ones who deal with your illness on a regular basis. Your sadness, your successes, your gripes, your frustration – whether you want it to or not, it ends up splattering all over them and they all react differently, each and every one.

Some of our loved ones fulfill certain roles

There are certain archetypes, certain roles that these friends and relatives fill, and we all know them well. Now, I just want to say that none of this is to make any of these people feel shame - we all know they do what they do from a place of caring. It’s just that sometimes that caring can be as smothering as a mohair sweater in August. (In the Northern Hemisphere, obviously.)

Types of unsolicited RA advice from family

The “you really shouldn’t” person

First, there’s the ever-cautious “you really shouldn’t” one. This person is usually the one who has been the main caretaker for most of your illness, especially if you were young when diagnosed. To say they are overprotective of you would be like saying a lioness is “mildly interested” in her cubs.

Even so, they want to act like they support whatever it is you are doing so they slip in things like, “Are you sure that’s wise?” and “Do you think you’ll be able to do that?” and, of course, “I know you really want to but...” The ever-cautious one always downplays your ability to complete even the simplest of tasks outside the norm without overestimating the risks with hyperbole worthy of a presidential candidate.

Want to head to the grocery store? “You might slip on a banana peel!” Want to go to a party? “You might eat a chip that someone with the flu sneezed in the general vicinity of!” Want to go bungee jumping? “You might rip out one of your prosthetic...” You know what - OK, on that last one, they might have a point. But the other two, well, over-protection alert!!

It’s not only disheartening to hear someone so close to us voice that we can’t do a thing, but it erodes our relationship with this person and before you know it you are at each other’s throats like two MMA fighters at a pre-fight press conference, with just the same amount of fake surprise. Two raging physical specimens built to fight are getting into it with each other??? I’m shocked. SHOCKED!

The “hard work and get-up-and-go” person

On the opposite end of the scale, we have the “hard work and get-up-and-go will cure you” person. This individual, most times a sibling or an uncle/aunt, believes that you are suckling just a little too much on the family teat and a good swift kick in the move-out-and-try-to-make-it-on-your-own pants is exactly what’s needed.

Some of this stems from jealousy, I think, but some just stem from good ol’ greed. More for you means less for them. Consistently playing down your symptoms, or I should say, playing down the severity of your symptoms (they are careful never to say that you are making things up outright), these people are forever trying to convince other family members that you are more than capable of living on your own without any assistance. Their mission is to reveal your clever plan to play up the severity of your never-ending pain and suffering as just a ploy to get free cheese from the government. And your parents. Money, not cheese. Err, cheese too, I guess.

Whatever, the point is: these people won’t be satisfied until you are living in a shack in the wilderness of Alaska, wearing the skins of deer you killed and ate yourself while you cut down timber to build a log cabin out of mud and a leaf roof you thatched yourself. Even then, they’d claim you are fleecing the family for those matches you took from the house and say, “Why can’t you just rub two sticks together like normal people do?” Well, Kathy, it’s hard to rub sticks together when your knuckles are swollen and crooked.

The “exercise and healthy, clean living” person

Finally, today, we’ll talk about the "exercise and healthy, clean living can cure you" person. This can be a brother or a particularly annoying friend who has only recently discovered the keto diet. They will regale you with the benefits of kale, ancient grains, and kombucha, and promise that if you just stop eating all that processed food like hamburgers and crab legs, your illness will cure itself.

The “can cure you” person’s birdsong sounds very similar to “As soon as I started eating paleo I felt amazing,” and you can hear it repeated often at family gatherings, recitals, and endlessly on social media. This person may even carry a Ziploc or Tupperware full of various nuts, berries, and herbs and then insist that you try some of their kibble, claiming it’s “better than GORP.”

It is important to keep the “can cure you” person at a safe distance at all times to avoid any type of acai or fish oil contamination, as this can lead to you becoming a convert to their traveling-salesman like adherence to the religion of “clean eating and small-batch produce.”

Only you know what makes you feel better

You know some of these people, admit it! Like I said, I think this ultimately comes from a place of caring, so don’t be too harsh the next time you see them at a family gathering. But, remember – only you know what is going to make you feel better. Don’t let someone else dictate it to you!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go hang glide back to my yurt while drinking a kale and cashew smoothie. Talk soon.

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