We all know relationships can be a challenge — a challenge that’s made especially difficult when you are living with chronic illness. Talking about arthritis with those around us is incredibly intimidating. Will my boss believe me? Are my friends going to judge me? Am I a burden on my partner?
Arthritis has been a part of my life since I was 7 years old in nearly every chapter of my life. As a result, nearly every relationship I have ever had has required making room for my disease. And figuring out just how much room I should make for my illness in my relationships — in my life, even — is one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in learning to live (Yes!) with arthritis.
For my friend and co-host, Rebecca, RA has been a part of the last 18 years of her life; arthritis is a part of her marriage, her relationship with her young son, and her career goals and passion.
Together, Rebecca and I share a lifetime’s worth of relationships impacted by arthritis — and we know just how difficult it is to be vulnerable in sharing our experience with this disease. But even with our collective 36+ years of experience with arthritis, we hardly feel like experts in tackling the big challenge of navigating relationships while living with arthritis.
Katie Willard Virant, MSW, JD, LCSW, works with people of all ages as they cope with a variety of issues, including loss and grief, life transitions and living with chronic illness. Katie brings a special perspective to the work she does as someone who has not only studied the impacts of living with chronic illness, but also someone who has experienced it firsthand.
During our conversation, we talk about how chronic illness has affected our relationships with others and our relationships with ourselves. Katie offered great advice on how successful relationships with others — whether they are our partners, our families, our bosses or our friends — start with a strong relationship with our own bodies.
We talk about honing the skills to talk about our disease with different audiences — so that we can be comfortable in our identity as people who live with chronic illness. One of my favorite moments during the conversation was when Katie encouraged us to take up space with our disease.
Sometimes arthritis can make us feel voiceless, like it is in the driver’s seat of our lives. What I loved about this episode of the Live Yes! With Arthritis Podcast was that Katie reminded us we can take control over our arthritis by giving voice to our experience and trusting those around us to listen. This conversation taught me so much about becoming comfortable in my identity as a person living with arthritis, and I hope it will do the same for you. Listen in today. And be sure to read more about relationships in an upcoming article in the next issue of Arthritis Today magazine.