Summertime With Rheumatoid Arthritis: Keeping The Joy 

Last updated: September 2021

Like many people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I look forward to summer. I live in the southwest United States and the summer here is magical.

Dry weather, beautiful skies, and warmth to soothe the bones are something I dream about in gloomy February when winter can seem endless.

I always expect my body to perk up along with my mood, and sometimes it cooperates.

Savoring perfect weather and decreased symptoms

The days that line up with perfect weather, decreased joint pain and inflammation are days that I try to sear into my memory.

I do this partly to offset the negative feelings that can overtake my mind when I’m flaring and also to remind myself of who I am when I’m feeling my best.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, most of my summer fun includes a lot of adapting to the body I wake up with.

Peer pressure of group activities

When I’m on my own, that’s pretty easy - I just decide if I’m up to whatever I want to do and if not, I do something different. It’s when the plan involves other people that things can become complicated.

"Are you sure you need to leave?"

I bet we’ve all encountered the person who, upon hearing you say that you are leaving a barbeque early or need to sit out a bike ride to the park, say something to the effect of, "Are you sure you can’t? Are you sure you need to leave? Can you stay just another 30 minutes? We are having so much fun!"

Peer pressure works, and that’s why all of us have used it at one point or another...

When I need to leave events early

Every time this happens to me, I remind myself that this person genuinely wants to spend time with me, which is why they said what they said. There is nothing malicious in asking someone to stay at a party longer.

Comments that make me feel like a party pooper

The problem, for me, is the cascade of feelings that comes next. Those statements imply that I don’t WANT to participate, which is the farthest thing from the truth.

They make me feel like I’ve become a party pooper or a stick-in-the-mud when, in reality, I’m just taking care of myself.

Those comments remind me of the friendships that have become strained or lost because the other person eventually becomes tired of my excuses. They steal my joy.

How to protect my happiness

Over the years I’ve realized that when you live with rheumatoid arthritis and chronic pain, joy is a precious commodity.

It’s harder to get there when pain is preventing you from doing the things you love and comes along no matter what you are doing. So, I’ve learned to protect my happiness.

A list of happy things I can do on my own

One way that I do this is to have a long list of things that bring me happiness that I can do on my own. That way, on days that I have to opt-out of a social engagement or cut it short, I can still feel good about my life.

Friendships with people who understand

I’ve also cultivated friendships with people who understand my needs better and understand me enough to know that I only say no if I absolutely have to, and not because I want to.

I’ve felt comfortable enough with those friends to talk to them about how I feel, so they support my efforts at being happy instead of trying to spend time with me on their terms.

Not everyone will understand

As for the people in my life who I love but also don’t have the level of understanding that I need: I realize that, just like swollen joints are a fact of my life, I can’t expect everyone to "get" my situation and careless comments aren’t attacks or judgments.

I remind myself that it has taken me almost 50 years to get this good at self-care and I’m proud of how far I’ve come.

Sometimes the strong choice is the hard choice, and if I can accept the things I cannot change, I can find my way back to joy quicker.

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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.

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