There are many times in which having a chronic disease can feel very lonely. Others around them may have a difficult time understanding their pain, especially if they look healthy or do not complain much about their ailment. Children may not be old enough to comprehend the challenges their parent may be facing. Spouses may already be feeling overwhelmed, possibly even frightened, by the prospect of spending their life dealing with or taking care of someone who has a serious disease like rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Parents may be so hurt that their adult children are going through this disease that they may be in a bit of denial about the seriousness. As a result, people afflicted with painful diseases may feel isolated, alienated, and alone.
These are the reasons why it is important to help your loved one find or create the support system that they need. Your loved one or friend may need help asking for support from their closest relationships or may need a push to find a support group with others who understand the trials and pain of dealing with RA. Having support can help your loved one buffer the pain of another intense flare-up, or lift their mood when they are depressed. Whether it is a preexisting relationship, say, a spouse, or someone you just formed a friendship with, there are many suggestions that can help you help a loved one deal with their RA.
Before your spouse had RA, you two probably experienced the normal ups and downs in your marriage or relationship. Now that they have RA, your relationship may be even more challenged, tumultuous, and strained. Sex may be difficult, or even painful, if not impossible during an intense flare-up. Fatigue may be all but completely sapping your spouse of their energy and limit their enthusiasm for doing the same activities you enjoyed before the disease. Perhaps even the seemingly simplest of activities are impossible to maintain. The attention that you and your spouse now give to RA may be completely interfering with any attention given to the relationship.
Enduring your spouse’s bad flare-up or side-effects of trying a new medication takes enormous compassion and patience. If your spouse is lucky, you are the type of support system who makes an effort to understand what they are going through and you ask often how you can help him or her through their trials. One of the biggest ways in which you can help your partner is through educating yourself about the disease and keeping the lines of communication wide open. Not only will you develop a deeper understanding of your love’s disease, but you may also become better equipped to help him or her make important medical and lifestyle decisions about it.
If you are a child of a parent with RA, you may have a lot of concerns and questions, not just about your parent’s wellbeing, but also about how you can help them through it. If you are a young child, perhaps your other parent or another family member showed this article to you. If you are a teen or adult child and you found this article on your own, rest assured these tips will help you to be the best support you can to your beloved parent.
Your mother or father may be having an extra difficult time keeping up with you lately. If their RA is brand-new, you may be surprised at how they are not able to do as much as they could before RA. They may show less interest in activities you once shared together or seem too tired to participate in much anymore. The fluctuating nature of the disease often makes it very difficult for parents to give you, their child, the structure and consistency that you need.
If you really want to be able to be a great source of support for your ailing parent, one of the best things you can do is to learn as much as you can, both about RA in general and about how it affects your parent individually. Let your parent know that you are educating yourself and that you understand that there will be days when they are in more pain and more tired than other days. Encourage your parent to discuss how they feel about their illness, so they know they can vent their concerns and frustrations with you (and so that the lines of communication will be open for you to vent your own frustrations).
In addition to letting them know you are there for a source of support, also let them know how eager you are to help them deal with the regular, everyday chores around the house. Prepare meals and clean the house without being asked, and offer to step in and help with younger siblings. If your other parent is in the home, your extra assistance will free up their time to be of greater help to your ill parent, helping to ease the stress around the home altogether.
If your friend is in the middle of a bad flare-up, they may want very little to do with the outside world, seeming to prefer instead to hide away inside the comfort of their home. However, staying isolated for very long is never good for someone’s mental and emotional health. This is why it is important for your friend to have you by their side to over friendship and to nourish their spirit. Your friend needs to (at least occasionally) surround themselves with friends who are willing to listen to their concerns, feelings, and frustrations. They also need people who will give them encouragement and hope when they need it. To be the best friend, you will need to learn how to offer advice when it is needed, but also to give space when it is not.
On the other hand, your friend does not need people who minimize their condition or make them feel like they need to but on a cheerful front to make others feel better. When your friend is sick, they need people who take care of them, not more people who they need to take care of. Educate yourself on the side, so that you will be more informed and less likely to ask invasive questions. Your goal as a friend is to give your loved one the support that they need. If they need you to listen, try to be that confidant. If they need distraction, try to offer them a funny story or a date out to a heart-warming movie.
If you have RA, yourself, and have joined a support group, then you may be wondering how you can offer support to those who seem to be having a more difficult time with their disease than you. Perhaps you have made friends with someone who is in the middle of a bad flare-up, or maybe you are wondering what you should and should not say in your support group. Sometimes just getting together with other people who are also experiencing RA can be all the support you need.
If you have been in your support group for a while now, you have probably noticed how dramatically different each person and their needs can be. Maybe some people seem more open and chattier than others. Maybe a few of the people seem to be in denial, often seeking to change the subject and avoid the topic of RA altogether. While some others may seem to be in more pain that you are, both physically and emotionally. Regardless of the different personalities and needs of the members of your support group, you can be the biggest help, just by being yourself.
Always remember to have compassion and patience for those who seem less friendly or a little difficult to be around. Everyone deals with their disease differently and nobody experiences the trials the same as everyone else. Sometimes the best way to help someone who has RA is simply to ask them directly what they need from you.
American College of Rheumatology: www.rheumatology.org