Keep Friendships Strong When You Have Arthritis
Use these solutions to maintain strong bonds when arthritis tries to get in the way of your friendships.
Is arthritis causing a rift between you and your BFF? If you have recently been diagnosed, new physical limitations and extra doctors visits may be isolating you from your social circle. For those who have had chronic pain for some time, years of canceled plans and illness-centered conversations may have put some wear and tear on an otherwise unbreakable bond.
“Friendships are extremely important for our mental and emotional wellbeing, and when we need them most, such as when we are facing chronic pain, they can be difficult to nurture and maintain,” says Kira Lynne, RPC, a psychotherapist in Vancouver. “You only have so much energy each day, and some days it might take all you have just to survive the day. Finding the energy for others can be difficult.”
But connecting with your peers can do wonders for your emotional and physical health. Here are common spats friends experience and tips to get your kumbaya back.
“My friends don’t understand what this feels like.”
Your friend will never know exactly what it feels like to have arthritis – and that is not their fault! Communication is key. Try to explain how you feel in ways they can relate to, such “tired like when you have the flu,” or use a pain scale.
“Give them enough information so they understand your limits but do not talk their ear off,” advises Nancy Molitor, PhD, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University.
“My buddy gets mad when I cancel plans.”
Lynne advises you develop a special language with your friends so they understand what kind of day you are having. A “hare day” might mean you have little pain and are ready to go, and a “tortoise day” means you need to take things slowly.
“I used to be really active, but I’m usually not up for those activities anymore.”
Explain your limitations, but let them know you can still participate in less strenuous activities when you feel good. For instance, bike three miles instead of 15. Suggest alternative ways to spend time together, like getting together for dinner or a movie.
Be proactive – do not let your buddy down at the last minute. If someone asks you to join a tennis group tell them you can probably make three-quarters of the matches. And have a sub lined up if you have to cancel.
“I thought so-and-so was my closest friend. Now, she never calls or asks if I need help.”
Reach out. Don’t just sit back and wait for someone to call you. If you are having a bad day, calling a friend can help brighten your mood. Or use text messages to connect, or walk outside and say hi to the neighbors.
Ask for what you need. Your friend may want to help, but be unsure about what to do. Find ways for them to support you – ask to go shopping together, request a ride to an appointment, or see if she’ll make a meal for the week.
“My friendship has become toxic.”
“Relationships that become unstable and toxic can make your symptoms worse. Pay attention to the quality of your friendships when you have arthritis. No one is perfect, but if there is a really negative influence in your life, then you need to put yourself first and pull away,” says Molitor.
“True friends will make room for the arthritis and its effects,” adds Jackson Rainer, PhD, a clinical psychologist practicing in Atlanta. “Those who are less able to accommodate to the illness generally drift away, which in my mind, is not a bad thing.”
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