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Denial and RA

People have often told me: “RA can’t be that bad, it’s just a little amount of pain.” This is categorically false. I cringe when I hear this, especially when that person doesn’t have RA at all. Clearly, there are some misconceptions on what RA is, what it encapsulates, and on the lifelong effects of this disease.

Most of the time, I simply choose not to say anything to these types of comments; however, as those thoughts have continued to swirl around in my mind, I’ve come to realize that those comments end up translating into nodules of denial of this condition. I begin to internalize these statements: “Maybe my RA isn’t that bad, maybe I am overreacting, maybe my life isn’t that difficult.” These experiences have propped up a singular question in my brain: what is the connection between denial and RA?

The self-protection of denial

In many ways, denial can be a form of self-protection. This is really common in the beginning phases of having RA because the nature of the disease, in all of the changes to medications, lifestyle, and ways of thinking it causes, is overwhelming. In my personal experience, trying to convince yourself that things aren’t that bad, that your joint pain is transient and can be mostly alleviated with ibuprofen, is a way of denying the longevity of RA as a condition.

When I was first diagnosed, I was unaware that RA can affect more than your joints: your heart, your lungs, and your kidneys can also be affected. That’s because RA, as opposed to osteoporosis, is an inflammatory disease that weakens the immune system and fully accepting that—both in terms of longevity and health—is exceedingly difficult for me.

What can denial do in terms of your condition?

If you consistently deny the effects that RA has on your health — if you even know that you have RA to begin with —more and more problems begin to accumulate. My story with denial is a bit unusual. I began feeling symptoms of RA in May 2018 when I was 21 years old. I’ve talked about this a little bit in previous articles, but my hip felt like it was on fire, and I could barely walk.

Obviously, for the first month, I didn’t think I had RA at all. But, as I talked with my doctor more and started doing more research (WebMD should be taken away from me...), it became more clear that I had RA. And what did I do with these premonitions? I squashed them down, tried to tell myself that what was happening was not that bad, that I would be okay, and that this would go away soon. It didn’t. And one morning in September, I woke up and couldn’t close my hands on my comforter. That was the exact moment I realized my denial.

Moving forward

In looking back, I wish I would have gone to the doctor sooner and insisted to be tested for RA. My denial prevented me from getting on the correct treatment plan sooner. As a result, there are joints on my body that are still deformed and will be, for the rest of my life: my left elbow and right hip will forever bear the effects of this disease.

And moving forward, my plan for treating RA involves being attentive and honest with myself about the ramifications of this disease. That yes, this is scary but I am fortunate enough now to have a diagnosis and to have a treatment plan guiding me toward health. My health has been compromised but my resolution to live the life that I want is concrete.

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