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I wimped out. Here I thought I was finally feeling comfortable enough in my arthritis skin that I could discuss it with almost anybody, but when I stared straight into the face of a perfect opportunity to "share my story." I totally wimped out.
Note: It’s been a few weeks since this incident and since I began writing this post, and I have mellowed out and am not "beating myself up" so much for my perceived failure.
Here are the details of that day a few weeks ago: I was at lunch with three coworkers. One is aware that I have arthritis, but doesn’t really know the particulars beyond that. The four of us began discussing allergy shots, which led to a quick rant on how giving yourself or someone else a shot is icky and inconceivable. I agreed that it is icky, but I also wanted to share with them that when someone is given the option to feel better and it involves giving themselves a shot, you’d be surprised how quickly the squeamish muster the strength to pull the trigger and release the hounds. I am the poster child for this.
I talked myself out of sharing with them that I have arthritis about 10 times in a matter of a minute. I think the reason for this partially hinged on my mental state that day. I wasn’t feeling particularly confident. I was also worried about their reaction to this information — would they ultimately understand why I was sharing this information with them? Maybe they would wonder why someone who looks physically normal would have to give themselves a shot twice a week? I hate feeling misunderstood. Would they feel sorry for me? I don’t want them to. Arthritis is just part of who I am.
< Loud sigh > Sharing your story and information about your disease is always complicated.
Determining the appropriate amount of information to divulge is a challenge. Once you decide to open up about arthritis, then you have to decide how much to tell. I personally don’t want to overwhelm people with information about a disease they really can’t see. Often, no matter how much information we offer, people just don’t "get it" the way we wish they did.
Despite that, I believe there are a number of good reasons to make my battle with arthritis public knowledge. It allows people to get to know me better. It propels me to continually strive towards full acceptance of my disease. Discussing my chronic condition will raise awareness about this disease, especially the fact that it affects young adults and children. Maybe that awareness will eventually translate into research dollars or more compassion towards arthritis patients.
We know that when most people think of arthritis, they think of older people with crooked fingers. They don’t know about the fatigue or the chronic pain or all the maintenance medications that I happily consume even though one of them might saddle me with lymphoma some day.
For a long time, only a few of my close friends and some family members knew that I had arthritis. Back when I was diagnosed with arthritis I was a very private person. I wanted to control very carefully what people knew about me. On top of that, I had no idea what this disease meant to me personally.
As I write this post, I realize that I have a lot to be proud of. I am finding my niche in the world as a person living with arthritis. And the bottom line is that I am the most comfortable and confident as I have ever been as a young woman with Rheumatoid Arthritis. It will always be a struggle to determine who to let in to my arthritis world and how much to tell them. The fact is, no one is truly going to understand the way we wish they would unless they are going through it themselves. In order to cope we need to be connected to people who understand life with a chronic disease. Arthritis warriors "get it" and that’s why we must stick together.
Thanks to all of my arthritis friends out there for their support and insight! You guys are the best.