Today’s post is dedicated to all the men out there
who are living with rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy has been wanting to write, for quite some time, about what it is like to be a guy living with RA. I originally thought that I might alienate some members of my predominately female audience if I spoke about this too early on, but now I know otherwise.
Many aspects of living with rheumatoid arthritis do transcend gender differences, and it is easy to relate to the words of someone else who is going through the same thing, no matter if they are male or female. But still, there definitely are perspectives that are unique to women living with rheumatoid arthritis, and there are perspectives that are unique to men living with rheumatoid arthritis.
One of the motivating factors in starting my blog, beyond the therapeutic benefits that I have written about in earlier posts, was the fact that I was having difficulty finding and connecting with other male voices of RA. Sometimes, it feels like the only thing more lonely than living with rheumatoid arthritis is being a guy who lives with rheumatoid arthritis.
It often seems like I cannot read an article on rheumatoid arthritis that doesn’t start or end by stating that this is a disease that affects women much more than it affects men. While I know that this is indeed a fact of rheumatoid arthritis, I can’t help but feel brushed aside every time I read something like this. It sort of feels like rheumatoid arthritis is just a woman’s disease. As a man who lives with rheumatoid arthritis, I am just part of an even more invisible minority.
When it comes to my personal identity, I am already a member of minority groups in more ways than one. So I guess it’s somewhat appropriate that when it comes to my chronic illness, I am once again part of a minority group.
Being a guy who lives with rheumatoid arthritis means that, when I am walking down the street with my crutches, people often assume that I a dealing with a sports injury.
Being a guy who lives with rheumatoid arthritis means that, when I am unable to help carry a bag of groceries, strangers around me often assume that I am being lazy.
Being a guy who lives with rheumatoid arthritis means that, on top of the physical pain that I already have to deal with, I also have to deal with the emotional pain that comes from not fitting into societal constructs of “what it means to be a man”.
Case in point – headlines such as: “Rheumatoid Arthritis: Women Experience More Pain Than Men Do, Study Suggests“. (I think this is equally offensive to both men and women, by the way.) Do men experience less pain because they are stronger? Do women experience more pain because they are weaker? First of all, pain is a subjective and personal experience. Second of all, did anyone conducting this “study” ever stop and consider that men have a tendency to less readily admit to having pain?
I for one, have no interest in whether living with rheumatoid arthritis is worse for a man or for a woman. Each one of our stories is personal, and is not something that should either “more real” or “less real” based upon an individual’s gender.
And being a Latino guy who lives with rheumatoid arthritis mean that, in addition to bumping up against commonly accepted ideals of masculinity, I also have to deal with culturally distorted definitions of virility and chauvinism – otherwise known as machismo.
Come to think of it, I think Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy would make an excellent lucha libre performer – I already have a cape…all I need is the mask!
I find comfort in the knowledge that have always tried to lead MY life. Not conforming to (stereotypical) models can often bring up issues of its own, but I would not have it any other way. If I feel like crying, I cry. If I need to ask for help, I ask for help. I honestly believe that one of the biggest strengths any person can demonstrate is the ability to admit weakness.
In the end, the best part about being a guy who lives with rheumatoid arthritis (for me, at least) has been having the opportunity to learn that real strength has absolutely nothing to do with muscles.
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!