Socializing With Rheumatoid Arthritis

My little corner of the world, down here in South America, is quite different from the United States (where I lived most of my life, up until eight years ago.)

First of all, it’s very social. (We put Spain to shame, in my opinion.) Events can take place any night of the week, and when they do it’s not uncommon for them to run into the early hours of the morning. Unannounced visitors are welcomed with open arms, and are accommodated no matter what the host’s original plans might have been. (As an American who was used to planning everything with at least two weeks notice, the ‘unannounced’ part originally took quite a lot of getting used to…but now I, like everyone else, enjoy it.) Invitations to major events (weddings, birthday parties, baptisms, etc.) are often delivered only days (and yes, sometimes hours!) in advance. How could this possibly work in terms of scheduling, you might ask? Well, depending upon the importance of the event, and the closeness of your relationship with the other person, let’s just say that the resultant rescheduling of a person’s entire Saturday is often accomplished without missing a beat. (Told you it was different!)

So, when I first moved here, seeing all of this was initially quite exciting in terms of learning about a new culture and all. (Mind you, I was only exhibiting–unknowingly, of course–very initial signs of rheumatoid arthritis at this time.) And I went with the flow, as I struggled to figure out how to juggle unexpected Saturday morning visitors with Friday evenings friends who didn’t stop talking until the sun rose. (And no, I’m not making this up.) So after a while, from the perspective of an American who was used to scheduling everything way in advance (Save the Date!), it all became too much to handle. Keeping up with all of this socializing seemed like a job in itself! I just wasn’t used to this culture. What, the doorbell is ringing? Don’t make a sound, and pretend like we’re not home!

And right around this time, my RA decided to have its coming out party. (My actual diagnosis, alas, was still somewhere a couple of years down the road.) Sure, it definitely was a crisis moment in my life…but at least I now had the perfect excuse to stop socializing: I was in too much pain. After a while, this became a mantra as I turned down one invitation after another. It was true; I was actually in what seemed to be too much pain. So, in a way, I was happy about not having to socialize so much (or so I thought.)

As the pain worsened, as I eventually got my diagnosis (at least I finally know what wrong…but what do you mean this is for life?!), as my knees atrophied, as I had to learn how to walk again, the depression grew. Eventually, it took hold.

Which was still okay, in a weird sort of way, because the absolute last thing I wanted to do now that I was in too much pain and was extremely depressed was to socialize.

But over the past few years, as I’ve reversed course (positively) in so many ways, I’ve once again come to embrace socializing, and have incorporated it back into my life. Sure, I don’t practice it to the full extent that many people here normally do (there is, after all, still some American in me!), but I’ve once again come to actually enjoy it, even–and especially–if I’m in flare. It’s nice to spend the evening talking with good friends, or being invited to another person’s home for dinner on what would have normally been a weeknight spent in bed streaming television channels from the U.S. [Note to self: be sure to record tonight's finale of Top Chef Just Desserts.] And yes, even if I’m a host, and I have to put in slightly more effort around the house in order to entertain visitors, I’m still happy to socialize. All of these moment with others are not just opportunities to strengthen and rekindle relationships and friendships, but they’re also opportunities where I can enjoy good conversation, food, and drink, and–if even for only for brief moment of time–can temporarily take my mind off the pain and disability.

This evening, we’ve been invited to dinner at a friend’s house. Even though I’m flaring, we’re going (I never even doubted not going.) We’ll have a nice bottle of Spanish Grand Reserve Rioja wine in hand, as well as a roasted potato omelette with blue cheese and caramalized onions that I whipped up yesterday afternoon (also, while I was in a flare.)

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!

12 Comments
12 comments
  1. Anna Bechyne says:

    I live in Texas, and many times have had to suddenly turn down an invitation to dinner or one event or another. I was secretly happy when I was too sick to go to Dallas with my family to a Jonas Brother’s concert! But, like you, I’m feeling better now that I’m on a new biologic. Best Wishes to you, and I love your blog!

  2. Wren says:

    Well DONE, Guy! This is an aspect of RA that doesn’t get much air-time, I think. Spending time having conversations, laughing, and sharing our lives with family and friends is vital to our mental health–and our physical health as well, since it’s tied into how we “feel” mentally.

    It sounds like your social life is thriving in spite of your RA. This is just about the most joyful post I’ve read in a while. Thank you for sharing it. ;)

  3. Lana says:

    I will be overseas for about five years so I know exactly what you are saying about last minute events and unannounced guests. I never really got used to it. I particularly hated the entertaining part. I was never a good hostess and when RA came into my life I hated the hostess part even more. But good for you, RA Guy – talk about making lemonade.

  4. Shirley says:

    Great post thanks!

    I think socialising is very important as for me it helps take my mind off things, so long as my RA doesn’t become a major topic of conversation while I’m out. An interest in how I’m feeling is great and I appreciate it but I don’ t want my RA to be the only thing people talk to me about. Mind you if they don’t ask I’m not so happy either. I spend too many nights at home in front of the tv so it’s good to make the effort to get out and away from my thoughts.

  5. Kary says:

    I just need to get beyond a 9.30pm bedtime then I’m with you!

    I have found another obstacle that I’ve had to overcome is how much socialising is entwined with food and drink. Since being diagnosed back in May I’ve been treated by a clinic that works on rebuilding the immune system. I’m seeing really positive results but the downside is I’m on an elimination diet, the reintroduced foods I can tolerate are fairly limited and strictly NO alcohol!!

    I’ve recently started meeting friends for breakfast as you’re right socialising is good for mental wellbeing.

  6. RA Guy says:

    Kary, you’re right – dietary/alcohol restrictions can definitely present some challenges. I for one really disliked not being to drink even a single glass of wine or spirits when I was on MTX or Arava, and would often feel “left out.”

    P.S. I love your idea of breakfast dates!

  7. Jocelyn says:

    I too am trying to resume being a social person. I’ve hit a few big snags though. One is that most of my friends actively show horses (one of my pre RA hobbies). Since they are always riding that’s the main way they socialize. I still have horses, but most days I can barely take care of them so I rarely ride. Which brings me to my second snag. Now that I’m feeling better, I find that my friends have adopted the habit of leaving me out because I’ve said no too many times. Any advice?

  8. Lene says:

    RA can be incredibly isolating and when things are bad, my life tends to shrink. A lot. I think that’s where the planning ahead compulsion of the North American really messes with things. If you can’t reliably plan ahead, you don’t. Drop-ins might keep you in touch with your friends in a different way.

    It’s hard to remember that socializing gives you energy, as well as taking it away. When I was flaring really badly, I eventually developed a coping technique. When friends came over and I got tired after 1.5 hours, I’d lovingly say thanks for the visit and kick them out. It took a long time for me to get comfortable with that, but once I did and talked to people about why I did it, they understood and rolled with it. It meant I got the benefits of socializing without having to pay for days.

    p.s. That dinner sounds wonderful. I’m drooling into my keyboard.

  9. Thrive with RA™ says:

    What a great attitude!

    For me, RA pain can be tabled to a large degree when I’m focusing on other people, conversation and edibles. :) Emotions play such an integral role to how we feel — the social aspect is so vital to our wellbeing, yet it can be a double-edged sword, such as catching a cold during a holiday gathering when one is on multiple immune-suppressing drugs — a dangerous, potential outcome.

    Your omelet sounds heavenly!

  10. Kelly Tirman says:

    I love this about South America. I sometimes dream of moving there because of the social aspects. In the US in is not uncommon to live 20 minutes away from a close relative and barely see them in person. And forget about seeing someone if they don’t feel 100%! I love that you are still making time to be social even if you don’t feel that great – it feeds your soul. We should all learn a lesson from South America and enjoy life a little more.

  11. HayWire0831 says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I needed a new perspective on this as I am in the “I don’t wanna” phase when it comes to social events. It’s not so much the time spent DURING the event, but the way I feel the next day or 2 or 10. That’s the part that makes me turn people down for gatherings, but sometimes, I just say screw it and head out the door no matter how I feel or what’s to come. Can’t pause life!!!

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