An Experiment For More Effective Communication

It’s  no secret that a lot of us RA’ers have a hard to opening up to new people about our disease.  In general, most people don’t understand, and it’d difficult for them to understand the severity of RA.  Now, now, we mustn’t blame them, after all communication is a two way street. (I’m taking Interpersonal Communications this summer, and I’m really enjoying the class.  Can you tell?)  Let us analyze the situation for a moment.  Where does it go wrong?

Remember back before you were diagnosed, you probably didn’t know much about RA either.  Back then, if you heard the words rheumatoid arthritis, you probably associated it in you mind with those extra strength Aleve commercials or something (I know I did).  Rheumatoid arthritis is just like any other form of arthritis.  Then BANG!, you got it, and you didn’t know what hit you.

So I imagine most people think of something similar to those Aleve commercials when they hear me say I have RA.  We can’t expect them to automatically know what RA is.  When you tell them you have rheumatoid arthritis, the word “arthritis” will trigger several thoughts, probably something along the lines of an elderly woman outside in her garden wringing her hands,  popping a pill, and then giving a big smile before getting back to potting her petunias.  Of course, this is wrong, but this is what’s associated with the word “arthritis.”

Now that we’ve looked at the situation, let’s fix it.  What if we explained our disease backwards?  In other words, instead of telling them what we have and what it does, start with what it does.

Imagine it from their perspective: “I have a chronic immune disease that can cause me a lot of debilitating pain and fatigue.  It can be completely unpredictable, but that keeps life interesting, huh?  I take some pretty heavy duty meds for it too that also has some nasty side effects.  It all hinders what I can do on a daily basis, but that’s life with rheumatoid arthritis.”

What do you think?  I haven’t had the opportunity to test my theory out yet, but maybe this simple tweak in communication might help us change the way people view our disease.  Gimme some feedback on this one, especially if you test it out yourselves!  😀

Stay healthy!

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Laurie
    Jun 22, 2010 @ 07:17:35

    Great plan, Cari! I think it would certainly have way more impact that way – especially if you mention that one of the drugs people who have your disease regularly take is a chemotherapy drug! 🙂 Laurie


  2. jtsretroreviews
    Jun 23, 2010 @ 09:45:27

    Another great article. What I love about your site here is that you show an amazing amount of strength and courage by revealing that you don’t let your RA control your life. Of course, it’s also educational. Until you started talking about RA here, I’ll admit that I did not know much about it like, for example, the chemotherapy. So many people associate that with solely with cancer. While, admittedly, I still do not know much about RA, I do know one special person who is an inspiration to many who have not only RA, but any disease that may be getting them down.


    P.S. – That person is you.


    • Cari Elliott
      Jun 24, 2010 @ 00:50:06

      JT, you are so sweet, thank you so much. That really means a lot to me. I’m kind of at a loss for words lol. 🙂 It’s support like your’s that pushes me to do the best I can for this blog. I appreciate it.


  3. Manda
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 11:40:04

    Hi Cari
    Yay! Another post. I love reading your blog. It’s helped me a lot (fairly new RA’er here).

    It’s funny you mentioned this idea. I have started explaining RA to people like this, because it is just how you mentioned. People think of RA as just a little creak here or there, not the serious disease that it actually is. So far, so good! I always add in the name of the disease at the very end, and people seem to “get it” much better than they do if I start off just telling them I have RA…. total deer-in-the-headlights look. So yeah, you should definitely try it out and let us know how it goes. I’ve had a really good experience with it so far 🙂

    P.S. I wanted to ask, don’t feel pressured to answer though: Does your RA seem to act up more when the weather outside gets more humid? Mine does, and my hands swell up like sausages in the heat/humidity here in FL. I was just wondering. Don’t know to many other people with which to compare notes on the topic.


    • Cari Elliott
      Jun 28, 2010 @ 17:11:24

      Aww, thank you, Manda! I’m glad you’ve found my blog useful. And I’m also glad to hear that this alternative method of communication has been successful! This makes me excited. Hopefully when I have to explain to my teachers this fall why I’ll be all smiles one day and completely out of it the next that they’ll understand maybe a sliver better lol.

      That’s interesting that your RA acts up more in humid weather. They say everyone’s RA acts differently, though. Here in Arkansas I usually only experience an increase in fatigue during the hot months. I definitely prefer summer to winter, the cold tends to bother me. But I have to say the worst time of the year for me is when the weather shifts from winter to spring, it seems I always have a terrible flare then. I’ve often wondered it that’s why I prefer using hot packs on my joints rather than ice, and if those who prefer ice don’t like hot packs because they feel worse in the summer? Puzzling lol.

      I welcome any questions you have and I’ll try to answer them as best as I can. And if you’d rather email me about them or find me on Facebook that’s perfectly fine with me as well. 🙂


  4. Jenny Mills
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 00:37:47

    I have tried to work out my flare ups!! l have just came I am back living in Houston after having been living in Nigeria, Siberia, l did not do anything wrong!!, Nigeria hot humid, much the same as Houston Texas,Siberia, mm cold – 40 sometimes, same flare ups, though l prefer the heat! l found myself a Rheumatologist and have started Enbrel 50mg per week,to top up my methotrexate and naproxen and 6 weeks in l am still having flare up on my knee and hands, but feeling so much better, l try to pace my activities, rest, nap,read a book,swim,yes l do feel my joints more when it is damp!!l really think it depends on the person,we all have RA but affected in different ways!! l like to be in control of my RA not it in control of me!! Keep writing l enjoy reading your blog.
    cheers Jenny


    • Cari Elliott
      Jul 02, 2010 @ 18:17:03


      RA has a mind of its own. You could be eating all organic food, living in a bubble to avoid germs, take a zillion meds and still flare up. But you can get it under control, just don’t give up hope! Keep trying, stay strong, and hopefully you can get this flare under control. It seems like you’re doing a good job of not letting RA control you. 🙂

      You and I are on the same meds. It can take a while for them to build up in your system enough to take affect, and it seems like it varies for each person on how long that could be. Give it six months at the very least before switching to something else.

      Thank you for reading!


  5. Kirbir
    Jul 02, 2010 @ 00:33:13

    I really enjoy reading your blog. It’s nice to see how other college students are handling their chronic illnesses, especially RA. It’s one of the hardest things to do, balance regular life with college life with the pain.

    I nominated you for the One Lovely Blog award:


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