Positive vs. Negative: The Image of Arthritis – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck


Undoubtedly, when one thinks of arthritis or rheumatic illness, not many “good” images come to mind. Chronic illness, disabilities, pain – these aren’t “positive” things.

So, there becomes a real frustration – and a real disconnect – for many patients who see commercials for arthritis drugs that feature smiling, seemingly healthy and pain-free individuals who are laughing and practically jumping for joy in spite of their condition.

Through my presence on social media and the “blogosphere,” I have encountered people who scoff at these commercials, and feel irritated by stories being shared of RA sufferers who are climbing mountains, biking across the country, and able to smile their way through the pain.

My take on all of this, though, is quite different. I am someone who has had rheumatoid arthritis for 18 years now, and, while I used to be in the camp who felt bitter about these types of images, who felt that it was an unjust representation of the illness, my mind has changed.

Here’s why:

Sometimes, in life, you just have to let it go. I’m not saying you give up fighting for awareness and advocating for your condition. I’m not saying that you need to hide what you are feeling or be untruthful about the negative parts of these conditions. But, just as you don’t need to play down these conditions, you don’t need to “play them up,” either. That bitterness and frustration? Just let it go. These kinds of negative emotions really serve no purpose at all unless you are using them as a catalyst for something good. Otherwise, they are pointless.

I personally love hearing stories about people with arthritis and similar conditions who are doing well, and who are doing amazing things. Sure, these kinds of folks are the anomalies, and they don’t represent all of us who live with RA, but to me, they are inspiring. They are HOPE. It doesn’t mean that they’re less sick than me, or that they “must not have it that bad” or are faking. To me, they are a shining example of what we CAN be.

The commercials on television may not reflect all of our lives with arthritis. We all might not experience the same levels of success on those medications, just as holistic or natural approaches may not work for some people. But, maybe these commercials and the “happy” news stories about patients conquering mountains are meant to make us HOPE. What is wrong with hoping that we can, one day, frolic on a beach, pain-free, or bike for miles without pain? Nothing. Hope can’t hurt.

Now, these kinds of images may do a disservice to the public as far as their perception of arthritis. But, truth be told, people are going to think what they think — commercials or not. It’s our job to spread awareness and advocate to let people know the reality of our conditions. That being said, we don’t have to dwell on it. We don’t have to BECOME our illnesses. Our whole lives don’t have to be spent proving to the world that we are way sicker than these commercials make us out to be — and I think that, sadly, a lot of us get caught up in that trap. We want people to know how serious our conditions are, and by being stuck in that mindset, well, we may be making ourselves even worse. We don’t have to prove the commercials wrong. We should strive to prove the commercials RIGHT!

Let go of being a victim. Realize that the commercials may not be 100% accurate (honestly – what commercials are? I sure don’t look like the supermodels selling me underwear or makeup just from buying their brands!) but that they can serve some good: they can make use consider what our lives could be.

And even if we don’t ever get to the place of being as active as the commercials paint RA patients to be, we CAN get to a place to be as “happy” as the actors and actresses appear. Happiness is a choice. We can always choose to laugh, to smile, to look on the bright side of life. Even if you are in pain, you can smile. Even if you are having a bad day, week, month, or year, there’s always something good to be grateful for.

So, yes, there are a lot of misconceptions and inconsistencies when it comes to the image of arthritis. And yes, it may be frustrating. But, it’s almost a no win situation: patients get mad at commercials that show these happy shiny healthy people with RA…..but patients also get mad when the word arthritis conjures up a crippled old woman in a wheelchair. The truth is, it’s hard to paint an accurate portrayal because there ISN’T one! I myself could star in those commercials on some days. On other days, I do feel like that crippled old woman. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all image of arthritis or rheumatic illnesses, so we each need to define our own. What would YOUR image be?

To me, arthritis is just something that I live with, that I have, but not something that has me. It’s a huge part of my life, and to me, it is an awful illness that has far too many complications and side effects, but it also is not a defining factor of who I am as a person. (Despite the screen name, “Arthritis Ashley!”)

So, my ideal would be to see positive – yet realistic – images associated with arthritis. I don’t want to just see the “ugly” side of arthritis, even though it is inarguably an ugly condition.

No commercials or campaigns or slogans are going to encapsulate all that is arthritis. There are 117 types and the severity varies person-to-person. There is no way to paint that picture in a sound-bite or a screen shot. But we can reflect what arthritis is by the way we, as patients, choose to live our lives day to day.

I choose to be a positive image of arthritis.

What do you choose?

Stay Well,

Ashley Boynes-Shuck


What’s YOUR weapon against arthritis?

Follow the Arthritis Foundation, Mid Atlantic Region on Twitter @MidAtlanticAF!

Follow us on Pinterest, here!
“Like” us on Facebook here! 

Arthritis is Unacceptable.

Let’s all unite against arthritis. Together, we will achieve the vision of a world free from arthritis pain.

One thought on “Positive vs. Negative: The Image of Arthritis – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck

  1. I think your choice of word “victim” is poor. For me the frustration in living with the chronic illness, that is “invisible” to others, is lack of support and understanding.I do not look sick but have multible autoimmune diseases, including RA and OA. When my spouse/family sees someone on TV all “happy” and perfect they are looking at me like what is “wrong with you” why can’t you do that? If they can do it then you should be “fixed” too. I have accepted my “new” life, but those around me expect me to be the “old me”. When you see ads about cancer you see people supporting, loving and caring about people. That’s what we need! Maybe then people living with the chronic pain, fatigue, and frustration of arthritis and chronic illness can have real hope.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s