Common Conversation Issues

5 Common Issues When Discussing Rheumatoid Arthritis

When you have an invisible illness like rheumatoid arthritis, it's not always obvious to others what you’re going through or what help you need. Even those closest to you might not truly be able to understand the pain or fatigue you feel and how it affects you, day in and day out. Many of your friends, family, or coworkers might be willing to help but won't offer until you open up about your experience and ask for support. And those conversations can be difficult.

Avoid misunderstandings or frustrations by learning how to prevent or bounce back from conversational mishaps. Here are a few common issues that can cause discussions about RA to go off the rails and what you can say or do to get the conversation back on track. 

talking about RA
Verywell / Cindy Chung

General Strategies 

There are some things you can do to help conversations go more smoothly in general, no matter what issue pops up.

Wait for a Good Day

You know how hard it can be to express yourself when you’re in pain or fatigued. If you can, hold off on initiating tough conversations when you’re feeling especially tired or in an unusual amount of pain. You’ll likely have a clearer head and be better able to navigate difficult topics if you do.

The person you are speaking to should also be in a good mood. Choose a time when you feel they will be receptive.

Be Realistic With Your Expectations 

Before diving in, be honest with yourself about how the conversation might go. What are you hoping for, but also what is the most probable outcome? There's no need to be pessimistic, but thinking through how conversations with the person have gone in the past could give you some hints as to how they’ll respond this time and what you should be able to expect.

Have Resources Ready 

You don’t have to have all the answers, especially when it comes to explaining what RA is, what causes it, and how it affects the body. While your experience has taught you a lot about RA, having some additional resources on hand can help you explain the disease to someone who knows very little about it. Bookmark or print out some information ahead of time in case you want a little backup covering the basics.

Know What You Need to Say or Ask For  

Having a game plan can make it easier to organize your thoughts and keep the conversation on track. Think through your biggest challenges coping with RA, as well as some potential solutions your loved one can help with. When are your symptoms the hardest to deal with? What additional support or changes would help you better cope?

For example, if your pain and stiffness are worse in the morning, think through how you might want to share that, as well as what you need ( like a little extra time or help to get out the door).  

Doubt, Disbelief, or Dismissal 

Because your symptoms aren’t always visible, some people might not believe you at first when you tell them what you’re going through. Or they might see you going about your day and living your life and mistake that as a sign you’re feeling fine or doing better. They might not understand everything that’s going on beneath the surface or how the pace of your daily routine might be affecting you. 

Having people doubt you or dismiss your experience can be hurtful and frustrating. Try not to let it discourage you from continuing the conversation. Remember that they can’t see what you feel and might need you to explain things multiple times or in a few different ways before they truly get it. Be patient. 

What to Say

“Just because I look OK on the outside, doesn’t mean I’m not in pain on the inside.” 

Finding the Words 

Even though you’re coping with RA every day, you still might struggle to talk about what you’re going through. Maybe your diagnosis is still new, and it’s all a little raw. Maybe you’re worried whatever you say will sound like complaining. Maybe you’re overwhelmed and don’t even know where to start—and that’s OK. You don’t need to get into all the details in order to ask for the support you need. 

If you’re finding it hard to talk about your RA, focus instead on what others might be able to do to help—whether it’s bigger asks like pitching in around the house or driving you to your doctor’s appointments, or smaller tasks like writing notes or opening jars.

What to Say

“It’s hard for me to talk about what I’m going through. But I hope you understand that I wouldn’t be asking for your support if I didn’t really need it. It would be great if you could do these things for me.”

Holding Back 

You might not want to talk about RA at all because you find it too stressful, too frustrating, or too daunting. You feel like you already know what the other person will say and just don’t want to have the same conversation over and over again. 

Or maybe you really do want to talk about it but feel like you shouldn’t because you’re nervous it will change how someone views you. 

Whatever your reason for holding back, take a minute to think about why you’re reluctant to share and what might make you feel more comfortable. It could be helpful to postpone the conversation until you’re able to get in the right headspace, have time to prepare, or recruit someone to be alongside you during the discussion. 

For example, say you want to talk to your boss about making some changes to your schedule or work environment because of a flareup, but you’re worried it will result in getting your hours cut or losing out on promotion opportunities. You might want to hold off on the conversation until you have a chance to read up on your rights as an employee or meet with your office’s human resources representative to understand better what company policies might apply to your situation. 

What to Say

“I’m not ready to talk about this right now. Can we talk about it the next time I see you?”

Was this page helpful?