It’s party time!
When it comes to socializing while coping with a chronic disease like RA, there are many things to consider that make this matter anything but black and white. Sociologists confirm that, barring some psychological influences, most human beings have an instinct to connect with others, and in fact, it contributes to a more healthy emotional life. That said, given the nature of RA, which includes both physical and mental/emotional challenges, socializing is a significant issue. Yet it is one we often overlook, partially because our attention is so often required on other matter such as treatment, medication, etc.
By socializing I include both casual and formal connections that may range from events set in advance like a wedding, for instance, or a spontaneous invitation like going for coffee or jumping in your car and heading to a park with a friend. All of these have one thing in common; sharing time and space with other people.
So why is this an issue with RA?
There a few reasons and certainly more than I will mention here. What comes to mind, almost immediately, is the very nature of RA, i.e. the chaotic and unpredictable essence of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Because we often do not know from one minute to the next, let alone one day to the next, how our RA is doing in terms of overt symptoms, it is virtually impossible to predict how if we might be doing in a day, a week, a month. That means committing to a future date for a social event is not something we tend to prefer doing. And, as time goes on, it is very easy to pull back more and more from those types of commitments because we hate to say yes than have to say no or just not show up.
Isolation associated with RA
Another influence on socializing, is the presence of depression and isolation associated with chronic disease. Given the sadness, fatigue, hopelessness and helplessness that is often experienced by many of us with RA, the last thing we are inclined to do is socialize when we feel this way. It is far too easy to isolate oneself when we are exhausted just trying to get through the day, fatigued, by the demands of RA and depressed by everything associated with managing a chronic disease. Coming home at the end of a work day and simply collapsing into bed, or staying home when in the midst of flare, are often the only choices that seem to make any sense. Forcing oneself to even converse, let alone socialize, seems far from desirable.
Socializing is physically demanding for those living with RA
And let’s not forget the physical demands of socializing. From getting prepared physically to getting yourself to the event to potentially, being on your feet, or sitting, for long periods of time, it is often preferable to stay home. The pain and discomfort associated with socializing needs to be considered. Add to that the fact that so often we are expected or asked to contribute in some way to an event, like a dinner, for instance, yet we know we are just not going to be able to, and you have a recipe for declining invitation after invitation.
So, given just these few elements that influence socializing, I want to offer some tips on how we might counter the inclinations to choose not to. One strategy is to consider and prioritize those social events you truly want to participate in, and then make sure you enter them on your calendar so as not to have too many items too close together. Picking and choosing is a great tactic. One great side effect of this is that you will find that you are only going to those most treasured and important events and that means skipping the ones you really don’t care much about. And in prioritizing it allows you to plan.
Planning is another crucial strategy. By planning for an event, you can spread out all of the details that surround going out from getting ready to taking a nap to how much time you will spend at the event. Trying to hurry up to get ready or get to an event breeds stress, which translates into discomfort.
Share with friends and family your desire to socialize but within the context of managing your RA. Letting them know that you may have to pull out of a commitment, shorten the time you spend there, and/or not be able to contribute physically, will ease your mind and potentially help to relieve any guilt you may feel while keeping everyone informed so that you will not have to deal with questions you would rather not have to address. I have found that sharing my situation, preferences and realities with my family and friends, socializing is much more pleasant and, most importantly, something I am much more inclined to participate in.
Connecting with people makes our lives much more meaningful, joyful and complete. Human nature tells us this, and despite having a disease that pushes us to withdraw time and time again, we can fight that instinct and thus keep RA from robbing us of the wonders of socializing.