Friendships and RA: A Case of Mission Impossible?
Last updated: March 2023
When you live with RA, relationships of any sort are, at best, challenging and, at worst, nearly impossible. While open communication is a must, I often find it difficult to speak freely, fearing that I might appear whiny, too negative, or simply relatable. Is it impossible to have true, lasting relationships that span the test of time when you live with rheumatoid arthritis?
Friendships and rheumatoid arthritis
I tend to have many thoughts swirling in my mind and on my heart- not only about how my life is “really” going but how much our friendship has changed because of my RA, and I have found it exceptionally helpful to finally put some of these thoughts and feelings down on paper. So I decided to write an open letter to my friend as we continue to drift apart.
Processing our struggles in a judgment-free way
It is unlikely that I will ever give it to her to read, as I believe that ship has likely sailed. Nor do I believe she ever reads my articles (not to say that she hasn’t been a true friend in the past, more that so much time has passed), so it is unlikely that she will ever know about these struggles, but that is okay with me. For me, it isn’t about the rekindling of a friendship. Instead, it is an opportunity to process some of the struggles of managing relationships with RA in a judgment-free way.
I’d highly recommend doing the same after going through the “exercise” myself. I found it remarkably helpful if you happen to find yourself struggling to juggle relationships with those we love within the boundaries that RA presents.
Despite this, I know many would advise that perhaps she wasn’t a “true” friend, but to say that would be a gross oversimplification of how much RA can change our lives and those who love us.
An open letter
“There is so much that if I were able to speak from my heart, I would say. Over the years, our relationship has endured so many ups and downs. We’ve been together through it all, and I can’t help but worry. Is this the end? Have we hit a roadblock that we just can’t get through together?
Maybe it is because I sometimes think RA has fundamentally changed who I am. Who I am now, because of rheumatoid arthritis, is so drastically different than who I used to be.
I know when I sat down and had a chat with you the other day that I did a really good job of acting much better than I really am. I mean, we are talking about Academy Award material there. Or perhaps you were just being nice when you said I looked really good. And that you were happy that I found a medicine that “works.” Which is so different from what you might imagine working medicine to look like.
However, the reality is that I only “looked good” because I resorted to using my tiny, emergency-use-only stash of pain medicine. Medicine you might take for wisdom teeth removal, or surgery simply works to knock the edge off my pain to make myself semi-normal. Can you believe that?
In the old days, I could confide in you about anything, the things that I knew you’d be able to understand and listen to without judgment. But I can’t help but see the disbelief in your eyes or hear the underlying sarcasm when we speak. No matter how hard you try to conceal it.
But really, how can I blame you? After all, it isn’t like we even have all that much in common anymore. Playing in volleyball leagues, going out for a few drinks, and power-shopping our way through the outlets are so far in the past they feel like a dream.
Maybe I’m giving RA too much credit. Perhaps these changes would have all come anyway over time, getting older and simply existing in the “busy” modern world we live in. A world where we are so preoccupied scrolling our feeds, answering emails, and being productive that we don’t take the time or energy required to be in a real-life friendship with others. Maybe the impact my RA has had on our relationship is actually a footnote.
However, I can’t help but imagine what my life, and by extension, our relationship, would look like if RA hadn’t reared its ugly head. Or even if I could secure a timely diagnosis and treatment, how might our relationship be different than where we are today?”
What about you, my fellow RA warriors?
Have you ever experienced the loss of a relationship with a friend, spouse, or family member? How has it impacted your mental health and ability to manage all of the life changes that come with a debilitating disease like RA?
What advice would you give someone trying desperately to balance RA life and relationships?
Have you ever written a letter (hypothetical or not) to a loved one saying everything you really wanted to say but couldn’t? Did it help?
Leave your comments but always know that you aren’t the only one who struggles to be “normal” when having RA makes us anything but.
Did you know rheumatologist Dr. Donica Baker is answering community questions?
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