Unhelpful Comparisons

Unhelpful Comparisons

Most people are surprised when they hear that I have rheumatoid arthritis. This is in part due to RA being an “invisible disability,” meaning that I may look fine on the outside in spite of the pain, inflammation, and fatigue I am experiencing on the inside. However, I think the main reason people wouldn’t expect me to have RA is that they associate the word “arthritis” with old age. Few people are aware that rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune condition that can strike an individual at any age, whereas they are usually familiar with osteoarthritis, which is joint deterioration caused by wear and tear and impacts elderly people far more often than younger individuals. When I tell someone that I have rheumatoid arthritis, often they are comparing me with the image they have in their head of what a person with arthritis “should” look like.

I sometimes feel misunderstood when people expect that I should feel good because I’m in my thirties. However, I’m guilty of having the exact same expectations. Even though I was diagnosed with RA almost 16 years ago at the age of 22, I still catch myself should-ing myself by thinking thoughts such as, “I should be able to do this. I should have more energy than this. I should be pain-free,” and on and on. I do this because I compare myself to other people in their thirties, most of whom do not have chronic health problems.

It’s been said that “comparison is the thief of joy,” and this quote resonates with me. Contentment slips away when we look at other people and envy their possessions or circumstances. While I realize that comparison does indeed steal happiness, I keep finding myself opening the door for this burglar. I become frustrated at not being able to fully participate in all activities all the time, and can focus on how much different my life would be if I didn’t have rheumatoid arthritis. These thoughts are unhelpful not only in that they make me feel worse about my circumstances, but also because they are rooted in the assumption that other people are happier than I am, which is just not always true. It’s easy to think that everything would be perfect if not for RA, but if that were the case then the billions of people without chronic health conditions would all be perfectly happy. I have yet to meet a single person who doesn’t have any worries or concerns.

Furthermore, I sometimes envy others whose lives I don’t even actually want. I know a woman who seems to be that supermom who is able to do it all: she is successful in her ambitious career, she is an active and involved mother of three kids, she is heavily involved in her kids’ Parent Teacher Organizations as well as a local non-profit organization, and she exercises every morning. When I hold up my life to hers, she is far more active than I am. I can feel the thief stealing away my joy and pride at my own accomplishments when I compare them to hers. However, I recently started closing the door on that thief by thinking, “Do I want to be her?” The fact is she doesn’t have a lot of time for fun and friends. She doesn’t joke a lot, and I don’t laugh much when I’m with her. She doesn’t get a lot of sleep or do much reading for pleasure or watch many movies. When I look at her life I am envious of how much she gets done, but if I suddenly woke up inside her body and her life, I don’t think I would enjoy myself as much as I currently do. When I really stop and think about it, I think I’d be eager to get my own life back, RA and all.

We all get the hand we are dealt, and since we can’t ask for a re-deal our life satisfaction comes from how well we play our (swollen) hand. A huge part playing my own hand is contending with the voices in my head that tell me I should be doing more or be more like so-and-so. When I start comparing myself to others, I am faced with a choice. I can open up the door for that thief of happiness and revel in my misery while Comparison makes off with the loot or I can put extra locks on the door by reminding myself of all I have to be grateful for. While there are certainly aspects of my reality that I would change if I could, there is also much for me to be proud of, and letting that be washed away in a wave of envy isn’t doing myself any favors.

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.

Comments

View Comments (14)
  • 2 years ago

    Thank you for this! I agree–there is no comparison. We love ourselves and our lives, pain and all.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 years ago

    That’s wonderfully put, dayslikethese! Thanks so much for sharing and for being part of our online community.

  • Larry Sawyer
    2 years ago

    My current drug of choice Orencia quit working about 4 weeks ago, A new drug is in the works. I have 5 unused units or Orencia 125 mg, shots in my refrigerator. does anyone have an idea how I can get this to someone who can really use it and does not have “great insurance” and can really use it. 4 units are in sealed package, 1 is in open package

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thanks for your thoughtful offer! I experienced the same thing when I switched from Orencia injections to Orencia infusions. With all the legal ramifications I don’t know how it might be possible to get it to someone in need, but perhaps your rheumatologist or pharmacy might know whether there are any mechanisms in place for these types of situations. I wish you all the best with the new drug, and hope it is very effective for you!

  • glad2bme
    2 years ago

    Guilty as charged on the comparison issue. I’ve been diagnosed almost 4 years and I am still doing this all the time. You were so right that it steals your joy, so thank you for the reminder of how I need to stop doing it.
    The problem is that I was already guilty of doing it even before chronic illness, since I was a child even, always comparing myself to others and as usual feeling like the failure. So then adding a debilitating disease (or actually several) to that made it even worse.
    I could really use more happiness and joy in my life now so I’m making it a priority to make myself stop! Thanks for the great article!

  • Richard Faust moderator
    2 years ago

    Thanks for writing glad2beme. When I saw your comment this one article from one of our contributors popped into my head and I thought you might be interested in it (full disclosure – the author isn’t only a contributor, but also my wife). The article’s title is “Savoring Perfect Health,” but it is really about coming to understand that everyone has limitations and learning to appreciate what others can do.

    https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/savoring-perfect-health/.

    I don’t want to imply that the limitations aren’t difficult and I know that is not what she is going for. Only, to try to not be too hard on yourself.

    Keep us posted on how you are doing and feel free to checkout the Facebook page for more community involvement at https://www.facebook.com/RheumatoidArthritisDotNet/. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 years ago

    I’m so glad that you found the article to be helpful! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your experience. I try to find the silver linings of that dark storm cloud that is RA by thinking of the ways that it forces me to become stronger and to overcome negative behaviors and/or patterns of thinking that otherwise might be able to go unchecked. Of course, some days it’s easier to look at it that way than others, as there are plenty of days when it’s hard to think about the ways that I’ve become stronger in the face of RA challenges because I can only focus on the pain. (And there are those days when I think “What’s so wrong with weakness anyway? Beats pain!) I’ve been diagnosed with RA for 16 years now, and I still have to remind myself to be gentle with myself, so don’t be hard on yourself for being too hard on yourself! Gentle hugs, Tamara

  • swbw
    2 years ago

    This is very good…I also catch myself comparing my life to someone else’s life. You are right…it is not helpful at all and it does take away joy. Thank you for sharing.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 years ago

    I’m so glad you found this helpful! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for being part of our online community!

  • judy_c
    2 years ago

    Wow – SO good. I really needed to read this today. Loved your example about exchanging lives with the “superwoman” who seems able to do it all. I need to personally have more grace for myself and my limits and this was very encouraging. Thank you!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 years ago

    I’m so glad you found this article helpful, Judy. Thanks so very much for sharing your thoughts!

  • tdggal1980
    2 years ago

    This is so true! I can’t tell you how inspiring this was for me. I haven’t officially been diagnosed with RA but I am going through the steps (my PCP believes I have seronegative RA) and my rheumatologist is pacing himself since I’ve only had the pain for 4 weeks or so. It started in both my index fingers and now I have pain and stiffness in both my shoulders as well. I go back to see him next week & hopefully something more will come out of it. I have prednisone but I absolutely hate taking steroids. They make me feel terrible. Anyway, thanks again for the uplifting words! They made my day!

  • Richard Faust moderator
    2 years ago

    So sorry to hear that you are having these difficulties tdggal1980. I thought you might be interested in this article from one of our contributors about her experience with Seronegative RA and the difficulty of getting a diagnosis: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/delayed-diagnosis/. Know that the community is here for you. Keep us posted on your progress. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 years ago

    I’m so glad you found our community! I hope your rheumatologist is able to get to the bottom of what is going on with you and is able to find a treatment plan that works well for you. This process generally involves some trial and error, so if it requires tweaking try not to get too discouraged. Please know that we are here any time you have questions, concerns, or experiences you’d like to share. The diagnostic process can be very frustrating and stressful, so remember that you don’t have to go through it alone and that we are here to help. As you mentioned prednisone, I thought you might be interested in reading this article about my love-hate relationship with the drug: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/the-predni-zone/. Wishing you all the best, Tamara

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