Rheumatoid Arthritis and Friendships


When you think of the casualties of chronic disease, you don’t immediately think of friendships.  Our relationships with others are built on a variety of factors.  Sometimes a disease like rheumatoid arthritis changes our ability to do the things we used to do, be the person we used to be.  Some relationships don’t survive.

Many relationships don’t survive.

I had coffee with a fairly new friend yesterday.  ‘New’ as in I haven’t known her very long.  We’ve started getting together for the odd coffee, talking about life, usual chick stuff.  It’s been really pleasant.

Yesterday we met for lunch.  After about 15 minutes of chat she asked me if my jaw was giving me trouble.

It was.

I asked her how she knew?

She said ‘The way you’re talking.  I can see that you’re trying to open your mouth as little as possible.’  Then she laughed and said “Also, you ordered the soup!”

She remembered from a few weeks ago, when we’d only just met, that I’d make some crack about everything in my meal plan needing to be blendable that week.  We had talked briefly, and in a light hearted way, about my RA.  It was a quick conversation – I try to educate, but not drone on.

But she remembered.

It didn’t go in one ear, and out the other.  While she was listening as I briefly explained about arthritis in your jaw, and TMJ disorder, she wasn’t just faking the right noises and thinking about what she was going to say about herself next.

She really listened.

She learned that rheumatoid arthritis is not a disease that old decrepit people get.  She learned that it is a serious illness.  She learned that it can affect all kinds of joints, not just hands and feet.  She stopped and really thought about what a pain in the arse it truly is to not be able to open your jaw all the way.  Or to have it locked shut.

She learned.

She did all of this because she is a special person.  A person who is not completely wrapped in her own problems.  Someone who is able to empathise with others.  Empathy is a trait sorely lacking in our fast paced, instant gratification world.

It’s a trait I have found in many people who have suffered tragedy or illness.  I suspect as I get to know her better, and she trusts me more, I will discover something in her life that causes, or has caused her, great pain.  I hope she trusts me enough to tell me one day.

I hope even more that there is nothing, that she is just a naturally kind and caring person.

I have always said that saying that rheumatoid arthritis is an invisible disease is a fallacy.  At least in moderate to severe cases, the signs are clearly there, easily able to be seen.  But only if you know what you’re looking for.  And only if you care enough to pay attention.  And I’m not talking about deformed hands…thankfully we don’t all suffer obvious joint deformity.  But the other signs are just as clear.

My new friend listens, learns and remembers.  She’s an amazing person.  She’s a keeper.


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