Rheumatoid Awareness and the Invisible Battle

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Today is Rheumatoid Awareness Day. While every day should be a day of awareness, someone happened to choose February 2nd to go all out with the activism. In honor of this effort, I wanted to share with you a piece I wrote for a class blogging project. I’ve discussed the issues with “invisible illnesses” before, but it never hurts to keep emphasizing how much they impact people.

 

“I want you to think back to your commute this morning. Perhaps you drove.  Let’s pretend that you took the train though. Maybe this train was really crowded. You were lucky enough to get a seat, but quite a few people needed to stand. You look across from you. There’s a young guy standing there, let’s say in his mid twenties. He looks strong and healthy. Maybe he looks like he could be an athlete. If this young, athletic guy came up to you and asked you to give up your seat so he could sit down, would you? Honestly?

Sorry, but you probably wouldn’t. I’m not judging your character because I think that’s everyone’s natural reaction. Why does this healthy looking kid need a seat? Surely he can suck it up and stand for an 8-minute train ride.

But maybe this guy has RA. You can’t see the effects of the disease because he’s too young to show any major deformities. While he seems to be okay, he’s really not. In actuality, every joint in his body is swollen and hurting. The pain in his back and feet is unbearable. Maybe he needed to walk 5 minutes to the train station, leaving him extremely fatigued. Believe it or not, sometimes a 5 minute walk is enough to keep a person with RA bedridden the next day.

I’m not saying that this is always the case. RA, or any autoimmune disease for that matter, affects everyone differently. It depends on whether a person is in remission (no disease activity) or flaring (a period of intense disease activity that can last any amount of time). Some days I choose to stand on the train because I feel well enough to. However, on the days that I’m flaring standing in any form is unbearable. Either way, I would never go up to someone and ask for a seat. There’s too much stigma involved.

RA is an invisible illness. Sometimes I wish it wasn’t. I get accused of “faking it” more often than I should, and I know I’m not the only one. I hear the nasty comments people make at the supermarket when a “healthy” person parks in a handicapped spot. I don’t understand why it even matters to those people, because most of the time they aren’t parked in a handicap spot or have handicap plates.

This is a long-winded way of stating the obvious. My point is that the next time you find yourself observing someone, remember that there’s always something deeper than what you see at face value.”

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