Sometimes living with arthritis affects “innocent bystanders” nearly as much as it affects those of us living with it, but sadly they often get left by the wayside in the hurricane of all that comes with dealing with a chronic illness.
We, as the patients, want to only view our condition from our own personal perspective, but we can’t do that and be blinded to how it affects those around us. Our struggles touch our siblings, spouses, significant others, parents, friends – even our pets!
Let us not forget our support system and those who are by our sides on a daily or near-daily basis as we struggle with and triumph over arthritis and related conditions! Sometimes chronic illness or disabilities can have adverse affects on them, or, at the very least, our relationships with them, even if they won’t admit it.
I’m very aware of this, and I hope that you are all very careful, too, to not forget the toll that it can take on our loved ones, as well.
I always make it an effort in my blog posts to talk about things that aren’t often discussed, so, this time, I want to talk about the effects that chronic illness – in this case, specifically, Rheumatoid Arthritis – can have on family, marriage, and relationships.
Firstly, it is important to remember that any time a family member is suffering from a sickness or chronic condition, it is a stressor on the whole family. As I’ve discussed in the past, it often is a source of guilt for the ill person as they may feel like a burden. Sometimes, though, the “healthy” parties may feel helpless that they cannot do more in the situation, or may have some sort of variation of ‘survivor’s guilt.’ There may be financial strains put on the family because of the health issues and/or disability.
Whatever the case may be, being chronically ill is no walk in the park, and it is bound to cause some sort of stress and strife within the family. So always remember that you (the “sick person”) are not the ONLY one dealing with the stress. Try to remember that while it affects you most predominantly and while they may not be the person who is sick or in pain, they are still dealing with the stress of the situation, and having to be around someone who is sick all of the time. They probably are also just as sad about the situation as you sometimes feel about it, and so it may also be hard on them, as well.
There may be frustrations on both sides. The healthy members of the family may sometimes feel embarrassment or shame that the person with arthritis can no longer partake in certain activities or social situations. They may feel frustrated that they have to take on extra household duties or may harbor feelings of resentment at having to be the primary breadwinner. The person with arthritis may want to explode at times with anger and frustration that the healthy family members could never understand “what it feels like” physically OR emotionally! While no one is here to “judge” which of these feelings are right, wrong, or healthy…they’re all fairly “normal.”
So it is important to accept these feelings, and simply try to move on. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness often comes along with a grieving process. Sometimes you actually have to mourn the loss of the “healthier you” – and so will the rest of your family.
So what can they do to help you cope? And what can THEY do to cope? A big one is to educate themselves. One of the worst things that friends and family members of people with arthritis or other chronic illness can do is to remain ignorant and in the dark. LEARN about what your loved one is going through, so that you can at least TRY to understand and relate – and so that you can inform and educate others, and become an advocate for your family member or friend! Also, always remember to try to stay positive for them – and that laughter is truly the best medicine! Try not to judge them. Try to help out as much as you can, and to try to “pick up their slack” with household duties and chores – without compromising their independence TOO much or belittling them.
Also – remember that the person IS NOT THEIR ILLNESS. Regardless of how often they may talk about it, or how sick they are or may seem on a daily basis, they are more than just arthritis (or whatever they are dealing with.) Always remember that. Talk to them about other topics, ask them about other things, nurture their other interests, distract them, remember that they are human. THEY ARE MORE THAN THEIR DIAGNOSIS. Remember that, and remind them of that, subtly, at times!
Remember to ask them how their day was, how they are feeling, and ask them if they need anything – but not in a condescending manner.
Remember to try to encourage them to keep the faith and have inspiration. This doesn’t necessarily mean in a religious sense – but it just means to encourage your family member or loved one to stay hopeful in the face of chronic pain and illness, and to find something (hey, maybe it’s YOU!) to keep them inspired!
Adjust your relationship – some things may need to change. If you’re a couple that used to play tennis together every weekend, you may need to find a new hobby. If your parent has arthritis, you may need to visit them more often and take on more of a caretaker role – but be careful not to overstep your boundaries or become patronizing. If your child has arthritis, you may need to become a teacher to them, and educate them and their peers about the disease.
In a romantic relationship, arthritis can bring about other problems, too. Sometimes, it can do damage to a person’s self-esteem. Medications may have side effects that can cause weight-gain or hair-loss. This may make a person feel unattractive and insecure. Also, joints may become swollen, deformed, or knobby, which may also make a person feel self-conscious. Remind your partner what you love about them, and that they are still handsome or beautiful in your eyes. (If they aren’t, and illness is all it took to break you, you may need to reevaluate your relationship! You might just have a whole other set of problems!) Additionally, issues of intimacy may become a problem due to not only insecurities but also due to chronic pain.
However, this does not need to be an issue and the Arthritis Foundation, Arthritis Today Magazine, and Web MD have some valuable resources regarding Arthritis, Your Love Life, and Intimacy. RA Pain doesn’t have to mean the end of a physical relationship with your spouse. If you’d like more information please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the Arthritis Foundation!
Most of all, always remember to be respectful, be considerate, and to just LISTEN. Compassion and empathy are important to any relationship, but become absolutely VITAL when dealing with a partner/spouse, family member, or friend, who is living with rheumatoid arthritis or other chronic pain and illness! You may need to make small changes when someone you love becomes diagnosed with RA – but it doesn’t have to take over your life, and these changes don’t have to be for the worst – take it from someone who lives it each day! When you’re ill and you need help to get by, you just have to lean on the people who matter …for those who matter won’t mind, and those who mind, well, they don’t matter! You are WORTH love and you DESERVE to find your “one and only.” Don’t let anyone imply otherwise! Remind yourself that, in spite of your illness(es), you’re still quite the catch – and that the person fell in love with you for a reason!
Last but not least – children with arthritis. Does your child suffer from juvenile arthritis? If so, I’m curious to know how their siblings feel. The other “healthy” children may be ashamed of the unhealthy child (not knowing any better) or they may feeling slighted because of the attention put on the child with JA. Remember to explain the situation to all of your children and devote equal attention to all of them, and to teach the “healthy” children not to tease about their sibling’s disability….while remembering that the situation may be taking a toll on them, too.
Thanks for reading – I can’t wait to hear your feedback!
Don’t forget! If you want to warm up your heart during these chilly winter months and do some good for the holiday season, simply text the word ACTION to 27722 to donate $10 to the Arthritis Foundation, Mid Atlantic Region’s Million Dollar Campaign for Arthritis!