RA and Talking to Loved Ones

The holidays are over for most of us and I’m guessing there are a few people out there who are glad for one particular reason. You can be back in your own routine and your own world without having to explain to your loved ones why your body prevents you from doing x, y, or z.

Stressful family dynamics

Being with family can be stressful- fielding questions about your love life, your lifestyle, and what you accomplished this year; that’s enough in itself for many of us to want to hide under the covers for a bit. But add on answering the intensely complicated questions that are often naively asked like, “So, feeling good these days?” or “it’s okay if you sleep with three of your young nieces, tonight, right?” can make the holidays a lot less jolly, to say the least, and instead something we need to get through.

Now, Covid, of course, means we are doing less of this. However, that is another can of worms for many people like me who have explained more times than I can count why I can’t do most of the things they do out in the world. The point is that authentic communication with loved ones is tough, and rheumatoid arthritis makes it immensely tougher.

My loved ones don't show love the same way I do

I don’t have the magic answer about how to fix this problem, but I do have a lot of experience trying to get it right over the years. One of the most important things I’ve learned is this: every family has its unique strengths and weaknesses when it comes to dealing with stressful situations, and health issues are a unique version of stress.

On the one hand, I’m imagining families who coddle and over-worry to the point that you just want to do something for yourself, and on the other end of the spectrum is more my family’s style- the stiff upper lip dynamic where mentioning pain can be looked at as complaining. Both of these styles of handling health issues are extreme, but both have their benefits and both do come from love and care, as dysfunctional as that care may be.

How I cope with our differences

The way I now look at it is this- my life is really complicated and since I only see my family a few times a year, they haven’t really joined me on my day-to-day struggle. I know how hard it is to negotiate the disease and the thousands of little, but very important, decisions I make every week in order to be as healthy as possible. For my family to truly understand my challenges they would have to walk in my shoes, something I would never wish on them.

Focusing on my family's strengths

So instead, I try to harness the strengths that my family has and stay strong in maintaining my boundaries so I can continue to take care of myself when I’m with them. For me, that means emphasizing the positive while calmly inserting the harder realities that they need to know about. Not feeding the anxiety that they have about my disease, but also not letting them think that everything is great is a skill! In future articles, I’ll go into more detail about how I’ve learned to do that. Until then, maybe you can think about how comfortable you are with your family communication and how it makes you feel.

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