Empathy for Rheumatoid Arthritis Support

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Empathy for Rheumatoid Arthritis: Zero to 60 in 15 Seconds

empathy rheumatoid arthritisWouldn’t it be great if someone could understand how we’re doing and have empathy for rheumatoid arthritis? Imagine describing how RA makes you feel in 15 seconds flat.

We lament the fact that there is a wide world out there that just “doesn’t get it.” My own world is the same as yours. My own family and friends and doctors have a hard time getting it too.

There is no Stepford Wives extreme makeover for understanding RA. The folks who don’t have Rheumatoid Arthritis do not understand what it is like to walk—that is limp—in our shoes. And they never will entirely.

As I discussed last week in Transparency and the Wall, there must be a balance between our willingness to be honest about our health and our accepting the fact that some people will choose to live in denial. We are neither able nor responsible to climb the rock wall of denial that some folks put in front of us. Besides, repelling is not an approved sport for RA’ers.

So, let’s assume you have a willing audience to hear your description. What can you say fast—before you lose ‘em?

Three categories describe your physical condition regarding RA: Strength, Stamina, and Pain.


I like to describe strength as what it takes to lift a backpack. Someone with Rheumatoid Arthritis must carry an extra backpack which cannot be put down.

Try to describe what is in your backpack right now. Is it full of concrete blocks or just a load of laundry? Remember, even if it is only a magazine, that could get pretty heavy if you could never put it down.


When you have RA, it seems like the world is no longer a level playing field. It’s like all of life is climbing a mountain. You have to struggle and climb your way to accomplish any small thing. Some days can be grueling like the Alps and others may be only challenging like the Appalachian Trail. And, every morning, we begin again at the bottom of the mountain.

Try to say how steep you feel the mountain is. And where are you on it, right now?


Pain is the defining symptom of RA. If your audience has never experienced severe pain, this will not be easy. However, if he has ever had any severe pain, ask him to recall that pain and label it as “five”. (Some examples may include kidney stones, slipped disc, torn rotator cuff, being shot with a bullet, or natural childbirth).

Then, rate your own pain right now with a number between zero and five. It would be good at this point to also name the places that hurt the worst. You could include a joint count.

You may end up using all three word pictures. Or, maybe you only need one. I’ll bet, after this gets you going, you come up with even more on of your own.

Here is my example answer from today:

“Aw, thanks for asking. Today, my backpack has several library books in it. I decided to take the easy road, so I’ve made it about halfway up the hill. But, going to WalMart the other day was more like plowing through an avalanche. About 15 joints hurt; I’m at about a 3.5.”

It was so kind of you to inquire.

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Kelly Young. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 27th, 2009 at 8:10 pm and is filed under Communication and Inspiration. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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