Oh for pity's sake

Very few among us ever want to experience the lack of independence and the sense of not being capable that far too often accompanies Rheumatoid Arthritis and similar chronic diseases.  I would even say that in my 20+ years of experience with RA and the hundreds of other folks with RA I have met, we all tend to be, or were prior to RA onset, very vigorous, active, if not type A individuals.  I say this because it informs the next points I am about to share.

For anyone with severe enough RA to be limited in mobility, slowed down, showing pain, etc. the very first time you see pity in the eyes of another person reflected back on you, you are devastated.  It is not bad enough that you are trying to handle the disease and all that involves, now you see that dreaded pity and all that means to your psyche.  Pity, if absorbed and perceived can make us feel useless and in fact studies show, intensify our perception of pain.  I believe it is because pity in a comment or look goes right to our soul. It penetrates our stiffest defenses.  We question our choices. Our self-confidence is compromised and we often end up depressed and resentful.

Whatever the reason pity is one of the most difficult expressions we have to deal with throughout our RA journey. I have come to the realization that the key to not letting pity damage your psyche may be to think about the source of it from the other person's perspective. The fact is what they are conveying comes from a place of care and concern, perhaps even love. Most people I encounter when I am overtly struggling are simply trying to express empathy and care.  It is not always easy for them to discern the best way to offer that to us. Could it be that I am even projecting my own thoughts of diminished self-worth when I interpret it as pity?

Is there a better way to look at all of this?  I say a resounding yes! If you can embrace the reality of the emotion and motivation behind what you see as pity, you can in fact reject that notion and you will go a long way in leaving the negative part of pity behind. Learn to extract the positive message being shared.

At a recent RA group meeting one of our members mentioned how one of her grandkids expressed what she perceived as pity for her.  She was so sad and felt that what she had hoped to be wonderful years of joy and activity with her grandchildren had been stolen from her by RA.  We discussed this at length as a group, many of us empathizing and relating to her story.  The suggestion arose to embrace her grandchild's expression as love and concern and caring for his beloved grandmother!  By turning that negative emotion of pity into something positive and lovely you leave behind the sad and take on the glad!  It even can become yet another motivator to seek better treatment options and to advocate for yourself as you move forward.

Having RA for many years means you must learn to adjust your attitude and perceptions just as much as you adjust your treatments! If you do, you have accomplished something quite remarkable.

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