When diagnosed with a chronic illness such as, rheumatoid arthritis we are often given different ways to manage the disease. The first line of defense is usually a doctor handing you a piece of paper with a prescription medication scribbled on it. One thing that we aren’t sent home with though, is a prescription on how to navigate our social life- which is a big part of our mental and emotional health, that can be impacted greatly by illness. Chronic illness as many of us already know, can be downright isolating. Trying to maintain a healthy social life can sometimes add fuel to that fire of isolation.
Seeing a social worker one on one is recommended by some doctors. While this can be beneficial for some, it can feel hard to relate to someone when they have not experienced what it feels like first-hand. That being said, patients often leave the doctor’s office with an unknown path ahead of them.
At the time I was diagnosed with JRA 14 years ago, seeing a social worker was suggested. It was another item on my medical ‘to-do’ that I overwhelmingly scrambled to check off, leading to more stress and anxiety.
I decided to opt out of seeing a social worker and instead had a date with Yahoo and Google instead. Now, I am in no way promoting that you go straight to the internet for advice. This is what worked for my situation. So I researched and searched out different message boards pertaining to JRA, RA, living with arthritis, contemplating if I should chime in or stay the observer.
Eventually I opened up and starting having conversations with people about their journeys. I came to a realization: My community of RA warriors was my source of social support. The saying, “The best teacher is someone who has walked in your shoes,” holds true.
Since my diagnosis I have gone through my fair share of being a social butterfly to complete hermit. It became isolating when people around me didn’t understand how hard it can be to, just keep up.
I had no choice but to get creative in how I coped with various social scenarios. Here is a list of tips based on my own experiences, that hopefully you can find useful in various situations when you are not sure how to react or advocate for yourself.
Embrace the “Air Hug”
This a good method to use when your hands aren’t up to speed for that firm handshake that makes you wince and when your body is screaming from the inside-out. It’s in creating a bit of humor to an everyday occurrence many take for granted. So next time you are meeting with that boss, co-worker, family member or friend, who loves to just squeeze the life out of you- just tell them it’s an ‘air hug type of day.’
Release any FOMO- Fear of Missing Out
The unpredictable nature of RA can already cause anxiety. So can social events that we want to attend but don’t know if we can or better yet, know we will be recovering for 5 days after if we go. The notion that life is short has everyone wanting to do everything and be everyone at once. That’s when FOMO happens. It’s important to simplify and be picky of who and where you waste your time on here on Earth.
Get comfortable with saying, ‘No’ but not too comfortable
Saying no is good at times to prevent burnout- setting boundaries is crucial to maintaining your sanity. There can be a good amount of “prep work” to actually get ready for a social event when you have RA. A lot of people don’t see the before- when we are in pajamas struggling to change, have icepacks on our joints, a heating pad, needing to take a nap, supplements and the list goes on, before we appear in front of them all cleaned up. Getting up and just leaving isn’t always easy. This is why a lot of us say no to begin with because it’s just too much. Though just like everything in life there must be moderation and balance. If we say yes all the time, people take advantage. If we say no, people will stop inviting you out altogether.
Enjoy your time alone time
REST AND REFLECT
These two keywords are key. In order to be fully present we sometimes need to step away from all the noise and social outings and just do our own thing. Doctor appointments and medications, can leave us feeling exhausted. Take time to get back to center with whatever pastime you enjoy doing.
Stop caring about what others think and own it
Being self-conscious about your condition in a social setting can often occur when meeting new people. Do you find yourself hiding your ‘problem joints’- those that can be visibly apparent that the disease impacted, because you don’t want people start questioning? Do you use your assistive devices around people who know you well and avoid doing so around new people? Do you act like you can keep up for fear of not wanting to be a drag but know you will pay for it later?
Here is a quick visualization technique that can help shift your mindset: Simply take a moment to close your eyes and focus on your breathe. Then imagine being in a social scenario you find yourself having the most anxiety in or imagine you enter a room where you don’t know anybody. How do you feel? Take a moment to be aware of any negative thoughts and emotions before you walk through the door. Right before you do, imagine a white light wash over your whole body. Take a deep breathe and release any and all critical thoughts about yourself, concerns and perceived assumptions of others judging you. How do you feel now? More confident? More self-love? By doing this often you will notice a shift in how you feel each time you step out of your comfort zone and learn to accept yourself more.
Surround yourself with supportive people
Which brings me to my last tip. If you find yourself having to explain or justify every single time the reason you can’t go out or do a certain activity, that will eventually drain your energy. The last thing you want is to be pressured. Comments such as, “Just come,” “Why not,” can make us feel that we are unheard, when we already made it clear what we can’t do. If your need for some space is not being respected, then it’s time to rethink your circle. We all have the right to go MIA (missing in action) at times without being made feel guilty, to get our life and priorities in order.
Moral of the story: It’s not worth it, to not be yourself in social situations. Be authentic, stand in your power, embody self-love, and be proud of who you are.
Love, Joy, Peace, Happiness, Abundance, and above all else, Good Health to all of you.