Sometimes living with an autoimmune disease, like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), feels like having an invisible illness. Often, RA symptoms are not apparent to others. When seeking RA support, knowing how to best express to friends and family the symptoms you experience and how this disease affects your daily life can make all the difference.
Including your loved ones in your RA journey and helping them understand the kind of support you need can start with setting aside a specific time to talk. Schedule an opportunity to have a conversation in a neutral space - at a park, a coffee shop, or maybe even your doctor's office. Opting to include your doctor or healthcare professional can help color in some of the details of your specific condition.
Planning for this conversation will give you time to prepare and feel rested, focused, and informed. Also, if you know some of your triggers, you can avoid them so that you're at your best physically and mentally and ready to articulate your thoughts and feelings effectively.
Below, we've also outlined some informative talking points. Consider presenting this basic information to friends and family to help them understand what you might need for RA support.
Understanding the Differences between RA and OA
It might be helpful to explain to your family that RA is not the same disease as the more common arthritis, Osteoarthritis (OA). RA is an autoimmune disease that can present in multiple symptoms and is not limited to joint pain. The more commonly known OA is not an autoimmune disease and typically presents primarily with joint pain alone. RA can impact daily life much differently and occur at any age.
Educate your family on how autoimmune diseases are different. Let them know that autoimmune disease occurs when your body cannot recognize its own tissue and therefore attacks it. People with rheumatoid arthritis experience pain and stiffness in their joints because their bodies are attacking their joints, causing inflammation. Usually, this inflammation is why people with RA struggle with tasks and activities they used to complete with ease.
RA Support from Family
It can be meaningful to include your family in your experience with rheumatoid arthritis for many reasons. Beyond potentially better understanding how to support you, they can be on the lookout for RA elsewhere in the family. While RA isn't necessarily purely genetic, similar genetic indicators are intensified by your environment, diet, and more to encourage flares.
Your family may have questions and fears of their own regarding autoimmunity. During your discussion and request for RA support, be sure to bring any additional information that might help them understand your new diagnosis.
RA and the Environment
It's understood that rheumatoid arthritis has a specific reaction to personal environment and lifestyle. It is critical to quickly discover how changes in your daily life and environment can improve your symptoms. Share your experience with your family about how specific lifestyle changes are essential for reducing your levels of inflammation.
They may be surprised to hear that these seemingly minor changes can even eliminate your symptoms of RA.
Mymee is an RA treatment option that helps you find your triggers quickly so you can get back to feeling like yourself again. Mymee certified health coaches have all successfully reversed their own autoimmune symptoms by identifying their triggers and making lifestyle changes.
Above all else, be honest and open about your experience when you approach your family for RA support — explicitly express what you need from your family and friends, whether physical or emotional support. Be specific about how they can help.
Some things you might be looking for as RA support:
- An understanding ear
- Time alone
- Space to Rest
- Their understanding of your personal dietary preferences
- Assistance in avoiding your triggers
- Anything else that will help you feel better and supported
Your family can better understand why you are requesting specific boundaries once they know your RA's impact on your daily life.
While you may feel alone, there are many support groups and communities online for people living with rheumatoid arthritis, like you. These communities are a great place to learn more about how others manage their RA symptoms and set boundaries.