Let’s say that you are one of the 4 in 5 Americans who don’t have arthritis, but because that statistic is so high you’re most likely going to know someone (other than me and Kenzie obviously) who will be diagnosed. You’re probably going to have NO idea how to respond. That’s where I come in.
DO ask how they feel about it.
DON’T say something along the lines of, “At least it’s not life threatening.” This is because (1) complications from it can be and (2) putting down the very real, dangerous, and painful experiences this person has/will experience(d) is just not a cool to do.
DO let them talk it through without interrupting. They may need to process out loud.
DON’T look or act annoyed while they’re talking. They were just told that they have an incurable autoimmune disease that can be extremely painful. Don’t be rude.
DO ask if there’s anything you can do to help. The more specific the better here. For example, offer help carrying things if you know they struggle with that. Or offer to drive them to the grocery store if they need that. Most people do not feel comfortable just calling people out of the blue to ask for a favor – even if that person has offered to help – so by giving them a specific way you can help, you’re more likely to actually be able to help them.
DON’T say that just for the sake of saying it.
DO treat them like they’re normal. Because they are. However …
DON’T completely ignore this disease and how it affects their life. Treating them normally does not mean ignoring that they have arthritis.
DO let them tell you as much or as little as they want to. You are not privileged to any of their medical information if they do not want to share with you what their treatment plan is. And sometimes talking about it can help them process.
DON’T say, “But you’re so young!” or something along those lines. Arthritis doesn’t discriminate – not even osteoarthritis. You thinking that they are too young to have it doesn’t change anything. It makes me feel really awkward when people say that to me.
DO understand that they may have to change how their life works in order to best help their health. For example, they may have to cut down their activities. Understand that this is not about you. It’s about how much they can do in a day.
DON’T tell them that they shouldn’t let the disease define them unless that is actually what you mean. Far too often, people say that when they really mean, “Ignore that this disease really shapes your life or else.” Arthritis does not define my life. However, if I acted like it shouldn’t and/or doesn’t shape my life, then I would end up in the hospital for pushing myself too much and hurting myself accidentally. My life is defined by the kind of person I am, the kind of teacher I am, my writing, and the kind of friend/sister/daughter I am. I would be delusional if I thought that arthritis didn’t have a role in any of that. I am the person, teacher, writer, friend, sister, daughter, etc. I am because of the arthritis. It has made me strong, compassionate, and helpful in ways that I would never have thought possible.
|I’m not amused by people trying to minimize large elements of my life|
Ignoring that the arthritis does have a part of my life is ignoring a huge part of me. It isn’t the only part of me, but it is a large part. You wouldn’t try and ignore that I’m from Maine, would you? Because that has shaped me just as much as than the arthritis has, and you can’t take that away from the person that I am.