Arthritis is a greatly misunderstood disease. Myths and misconceptions about the disease abound. Despite pleas for more arthritis awareness in our society, unless they live with the disease themselves, people typically fail to realize the:
- challenges faced for people with arthritis
- difficulties and limitations imposed by arthritis
- unpredictable nature of arthritis
Certainly, some aspects of arthritis cause very visible problems, easily recognized and understood by other people. Arthritis, though, also can lead to situations that are nothing less than uncomfortable and awkward. For the person with arthritis, such awkward situations can be unnerving.
What Should You Say?
A simple everyday occurrence, such as going to the grocery store, can lend us enough examples of the awkwardness that can face people with arthritis.
Consider these scenarios:
You (the person with arthritis) drive to the store and park in a spot reserved for handicapped people. When you get out of the car, you are confronted by a person who accuses you of illegally parking in the handicapped area. Knowing you have been unfairly prejudged by that person, what should you say?
Once inside the grocery store, you have difficulty reaching items on the top shelves. An older woman comes along and asks if you can reach an object for her from the top shelf. Realizing that this is difficult, if not impossible for you, what should you say?
You see an acquaintance in the grocery store who approaches you and reaches out to shake your hand. Shaking hands is painful and uncomfortable for you because of your arthritis. Realizing the person expects you to extend your hand, what should you say?
At the checkout counter, you slowly and painfully take each item out of your cart while the people behind you in line stare and look tormented by how long you are taking. Wishing that you could make them understand, what should you say?
After completing the transaction, the cashier hands you the change and is surprised as you fumble with the coins, because your arthritic hands are not cooperating. Fully aware that the cashier is wondering what is wrong, what should you say?
After you return home and unpack the groceries, the excursion to the store has left you feeling very fatigued and your family wonders why you are so tired. Dismayed by their lack of understanding, what should you say?
Our simple trip to the grocery store has yielded six examples of the awkward moments that can happen for people who live with arthritis. Many other similar examples exist. Is there one answer that would be a perfect fit for all of the various awkward situations? Perhaps an explanation is completely unnecessary. Yet there are many people who feel compelled to explain.
Tips for Handling Awkward Situations
- In most instances, a simple answer should suffice: "My arthritis makes some things difficult for me. [Fill in the blank] is one of those things. I hope you understand." Try this reply. Fill in the blank with whatever word is appropriate ("reaching," "shaking hands," "lifting," "handling coins," "walking").
- Try not to overthink the awkwardness of the situation or the ignorance of certain people. Accept yourself and the challenges you face.
- Keep your simple reply in mind and use it to minimize the jolt you feel when confronted by an uncomfortable situation.
And remember - an honest reply will never fail you.