Acceptance of chronic arthritis may not come quickly after the initial diagnosis.
Do I Really Have Arthritis?
The first symptoms of arthritis are often overlooked or denied, with the hope that they will disappear. "It'll go away", or "It's nothing" are frequently proclaimed. A chronic disease though, such as arthritis, does not vanish.
Denying Your Symptoms
People do not usually rush to the doctor immediately when symptoms first are observed. They commonly deny that anything extraordinary is wrong, and allow ample time for the symptoms to subside. When symptoms do not diminish, a physician is usually consulted. There is admission of a problem, rather than denial, and a step is taken towards reality.
The information gathered from the physician's examination and medical tests lead to a diagnosis. Sometimes the diagnosis seems unbelievable and that can lead to denial as well. "That can't be!" is a common reaction.
I, personally, remember the earliest stage of my arthritis when I saw a note on my doctor's desk which said "R/O rheumatoid arthritis". Uneducated at that time about medical jargon, I chose to assume R/O meant "ruled out" as opposed to "rule out". In my mind, I allowed myself to think I didn't have rheumatoid arthritis, when in actuality I did. This was a classic case of denial.
Impending Lifestyle Changes
Along with chronic arthritis come lifestyle changes. Emotionally this is the most difficult part of having a chronic disease. Accepting the fact that certain activities will become more difficult, and other activities will become impossible is disturbing. Denying this fact can only result in physical and emotional harm.
By continuing to participate in strenuous activities, a person risks aggravating their condition. If the signs and signals from the body are ignored or denied, arthritis can become more painful and damaging.
It is difficult to admit that adjustments and adaptations must be made to make living with arthritis easier. The need for change seems "not normal", but the need must not be denied.
The Need For Help
Pain, fatigue, and limited range of motion are characteristic of arthritis. It is likely that the person with arthritis will need help from time to time with activities or other aspects of daily living.
A person's sense of independence can cloud the reality that some degree of help is required. No one wants to admit they "can't" do something themselves. It is common, especially early on, that the person with arthritis will respond to offers of help by saying "No, thanks, I can do it", even when they truly do need help. This is a perpetuation of denial. It is a unrealistic view that nothing has changed.
The person with arthritis can help themselves too. By making necessary adjustments, daily living with arthritis becomes more manageable. Examples of needed adjustments may include:
- using elevators instead of stairs
- stocking lower shelves rather than higher
- using adaptive arthritis aids (reachers, raised toilet seats, etc.)
- obtaining a handicapped parking placard
I remember avoiding the use of a handicapped parking placard for 20 years. It seemed somehow like an admission of frailty to me. I denied my need for it, and chose to park in regular spaces instead. I chose image over reality. Once again, classic denial.
Denying The Future
The future is uncertain for everyone. People with chronic arthritis will face more challenges than most. To deny that problems will occur or that the arthritis will be progressive would be like an ostrich burying their head in the sand. The best scenario is to plan ahead for the eventuality that the future will bring possible changes such as:
These are not negative deliberations but rather precautionary strategies. The progressiveness of arthritis assures us that some transition will conceivably occur in the future.
Facing the reality of arthritis becomes easier after learning as much as possible about the disease. Information and knowledge lead to understanding of the situation. It must be realized that life with arthritis can still be a good life. It must become the focus of the person with arthritis to:
- learn all they can learn
- seek mutual support
- adapt their lifestyle
- continually regenerate positive thinking
The arthritis should not be denied, and neither should the fact that arthritis is manageable.