Not Every Relationship Survives RA
How many of us have learned the hard truth that not every relationship survives RA ? Every so often a person I’ve shared significant time with comes to mind and I realize they have left my life. I haven’t had contact with them in so long that I know the (friend)ship has sailed.
How does this happen?
Well, this often happens when a lifetime event occurs. A move, one gets married or becomes a parent. Perhaps a change in job or an illness, particularly if it is a chronic one, are lifetime events that come to mind. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the one that has rocked my world.
Some lifetime events replace an old facet of life with a new one. Get a new job and you have new colleagues and officemates. Get a spouse and you have a whole new other side of the family. These events are by choice and are usually surrounded with anticipation and excitement.
But a chronic illness like RA is not a choice and is not surrounded with anticipation and excitement. More like anxiety and depression. It replaces health with pain, fatigue and stiff, swollen joints.
In so many ways, this situation couldn’t come at a worse time. Right when you could use a little sunshine to the soul, which a friendship brings, the friend isn’t anywhere to be found to brighten your day. It makes sense. Relationships take nurturing, a give and take if you will, to survive and thrive. Pain and fatigue can interfere with any nurturing.
Why does this happen?
Autoimmune diseases often take time to diagnose because the symptoms mimic so many other conditions. During this period of time a relationship often becomes more one-sided. When you are in pain, fatigued and full of anxiety, wondering what is going on with your health, phone calls aren’t answered, let alone returned, plans can’t reliably be made because you don’t know how you will feel, and then there is the energy issue. It is easy to put off until “next week” what normally would be done today to nurture a relationship, hoping you will feel better by then. The weeks turn into months that turn into years.
By the time a diagnosis is made and an effective treatment found, many relationships that mean a lot to you and you want to maintain are lost. By then some friends have moved away or perhaps have had some sort of relationship ending life event of their own. Or they have moved on with new friendships.
What can be done.
First, be thankful and grateful of those that have stayed with you and offered grace about your situation. Take note and be prepared to offer the same back! Recognize the treasure you have in such relationships. And don’t forget to express your appreciation for them.
Second, give an honest assessment of your abilities to nurture a friendship, keeping in mind your energy levels and other commitments. Reasonable expectations help to keep stress and anxiety better controlled. It is also showing respect to the friend. It gets stressful making plans and then having to cancel because of fatigue or pain.
Third, remember the *FRESH* strategy to care for yourself so you can enjoy the good stuff that comes with a relationship. It is a process to learn just how much you can do. There will be some hiccups along the way. Learn from them!
Fourth, seek out social situations that give some latitude to your health issues. I’m talking about involving yourself in a group or circle that understands you can’t always predict how well you will feel, so if you need to bow out at the last minute it is A-OKAY!
On this note I want to share that the Arthritis Foundation has started a bold initiative to better the lives of those of us with arthritis. One way they are doing this is to have support groups across the nation entitled LIVE YES! CONNECT groups. I am starting one in the LaCrosse, Wisconsin area.
These groups will meet at least 4 times a year with the opportunity to connect with other people that have arthritis of every kind. The social connection will include educational discussions and programs, learning about research being done, and sharing conversation and laughter.
A diagnosis like RA is indeed a life changing event. I have to say my relationships are deeper since my diagnosis because I do not take any of them for granted and it takes more planning to cultivate and nurture them.
Why this matters.
Relationships are so important to bring joy and meaning to our lives. They have been shown to improve outcomes for our health and wellbeing. Although not every relationship survives RA, it is worth the time and effort to seek out and nurture social connections even though we don’t have as much energy as we did before RA.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and suggestions about this important topic!
Photo credit: simon-maage at Unsplash