What You May Not See When You Look at a Person With Rheumatoid Arthritis

When you see me at work in the morning, you don’t know what it took just to get me in the door. I drive with the heated seats on, air conditioning blowing, tennis ball lodged between my hip and the center console and an ice pack around my knee. Even with all of that, I am still typically gripping the steering wheel in pain, just trying to get to work so I can get out of the car and move my joints.

When you see me at the gym, wearing my headphones, working out next to you, you don’t see what it took to get me there. You don’t know that every afternoon, my pain increases substantially, a fever sets in… I feel like I have the flu. Every. Day. I have to convince myself to go to the gym because I know the movement is good for me. There are days I cry on the commute to the gym but power through because I won’t let this disease dictate every single thing I do.

When you see me park in the handicapped spot at Target and get out of the car, smiling at my daughter, you don’t see the struggle behind my happy face. You don’t know that one good trip to Target will knock me out for the day. You don’t know that my daughter says she enjoys going with me because I’m funny and we have a good time, but that I know she knows I need help.

If there is one blessing I’ve gotten from my rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis, it is that I’m aware of what I might not be seeing. I encourage you to not judge those with a chronic illness, to not question the amount of pain they are in, or how awful their pain really is. And to go a step further, when you see someone slowly walking across the road, instead of feeling frustrated that they are slowing you down, take a minute to realize she may be going as fast as she can.

Image via Thinkstock.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Rheumatoid Arthritis

colorful textured background with woman looking over shoulder

Why I No Longer Believe I'm Being 'Strong' By Hiding My Disabling Conditions

When I was 5 years old, my throat hurt. So did my head. I felt miserable, but I didn’t tell anyone. Not long after, my leg began to hurt. I still didn’t tell anyone. I walked the two blocks to my kindergarten each day, pretending I was fine. One morning, my body decided not to tolerate this stoicism [...]
one woman in bed sleeping lying on back silhouette studio on white background

An Hour in My Life With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Imagine waking up and reaching for your phone to check the time. Only you knock the phone to the floor because your hand doesn’t open. The joints are stuck. So you start trying to move the joints enough to get your hand open. After a few minutes you can at least awkwardly pick the phone [...]
two photos of girl wearing different face masks

The Naked Truth of What It's Like Wearing a Face Mask in Public

I sat in my car for a good 10 minutes while having a ridiculous internal struggle in my mind, before I mustered up enough nerve to get out of my car in the grocery store parking lot… Me, arguing with myself inside my head: “OK, I’m here and I’ve got my face mask ready to [...]
Alana Schuurs and her son

When I Have to Balance My Rheumatoid Arthritis With the Needs of My Son

I look down at my hands and I can’t quite figure out why the joints are so red and swollen today. I’ve spent the last three years managing my rheumatoid arthritis (RA), so I know how to self-manage effectively. Except I’m not managing my RA right now. I realize this as I run through my self-management checklist [...]