5 Common Emotions People Feel After Being Diagnosed With Rheumatoid Arthritis

The truth about life is that we all think we’re invincible… until we’re not.

I spent the first quarter of my life thinking that things like cancer or a life-altering diagnosis happened to other people. While I felt deep compassion for individuals who suffered in those ways, I naively felt a bit untouchable when it came to ever experiencing my own serious health issues.

Sound familiar?

In college, health problems weren’t part of my everyday concerns until a few red flags began waving unexpectedly. During my last year of college, my body began quietly whispering to me that something was wrong. Like most goal-oriented people just starting out in life, I initially ignored those crimson banners calling me to pay attention.

Fast forward a decade. I was married, had a successful teaching career, two college degrees, and three kids. Those faint whispers had finally turned into screams that I could no longer ignore. My body was in excruciating pain, and there I was with a six, four, and two year-old under foot.

Things came to a head when taking care of the basic needs of my family became a daily struggle: I couldn’t zip my kids’ zippers, button their little buttons, or buckle them into their car seats. I could barely lift my daughters, I struggled to dress myself without assistance, and oftentimes needed my husband to work from home to help me take care of the kids. I couldn’t
put my bare feet on the floor without pain. I was quickly becoming addicted to over-the-counter pain pills to help me get through my days and nights, which had become fraught with pain and tears.

After battling undiagnosed health problems for so long, I finally admitted that I wasn’t invincible anymore. At the urging of my husband, I reluctantly made a doctor’s appointment.

I knew it wouldn’t be good.

The diagnosis was Rheumatoid Arthritis. When I heard those words, I experienced a wide array of emotions. My seemingly untouchable life was now facing the biggest health-related obstacle I had ever known. I felt paralyzed without a clear understanding of how to move forward.

Rheumatoid Arthritis, also known as RA, is a degenerative, inflammatory, autoimmune disease that primarily affects the joints, but can also affect major organs like the heart and lungs. RA causes joint pain and damage, swelling, loss of mobility, among other symptoms like debilitating fatigue. Approximately 1.5 million Americans, people of all ages from toddlers to
the elderly, have RA.

Living with RA is a physical and emotional rollercoaster. Some days it feels like I can climb a mountain or conquer the world, and other days it takes every ounce of my being to simply get through the day. It’s an extremely unpredictable disease.

Here are five common emotions people feel when diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis:

  1. Fear. When I was first diagnosed, the fear of the unknown was front and center in my mind. Would I die? Would my joints become deformed? Will I be on medication the rest of my life? How would this change my active lifestyle? What kind of mom and wife would I be with an incurable disease? With any new diagnosis there is always a sharp learning curve, but the more I learned about RA (and how to manage it) the more I learned to control that fear whenever it bubbled up inside me.
  2. Grief. I didn’t pinpoint that I was dealing with grief until several months after my diagnosis. Grieving my formerly “healthy” body and way of life was a process I had to actively go through to get my mind to a healthier place. I found myself oscillating between grief and anger. Acknowledging this deep sadness was pivotal for me. I gave myself permission to feel all the feelings that came along with a chronic disease diagnosis. I started to accept my feelings as valid, sit with them for as long as necessary, and process through the fact that my health as I knew it was forever changed.
  3. Relief. After so many years of dealing with unexplainable/mystery symptoms, I was honestly relieved to finally have a diagnosis. It was a strange, unexpected feeling. I knew I had a lot to learn but having a tangible name for my pain gave me something concrete to grasp onto and research. This felt empowering after so many years of unanswered
    health questions.
  4. Loneliness. I didn’t know anyone outside the geriatric community with RA. I was a mom with young children and desperately needed community to help me process, learn, and ask questions. Taking my story to social media was one of the best decisions I made to help me combat my deep desire to feel seen, heard, and understood by others who related to my situation. Sharing my story on Instagram and connecting with like-minded
    people was extremely healing for my mental health. This changed my perspective, motivated me to keep going, and helped me focus on what I could do instead of what I couldn’t do.
  5. Acceptance. Accepting the fact that Rheumatoid Arthritis was now part of my life’s story was not something that came quickly. With time and introspection, I slowly accepted the reality of learning to navigate everyday life in new ways. I accepted that I’d have certain limitations and needed to create some fierce boundaries. I accepted that making significant lifestyle changes were necessary. I learned that acceptance of my diagnosis was not admitting defeat and that, despite my diagnosis, I could still live a vibrant, hopeful, joy-filled life!

For me, acceptance meant that it was time to become invincible in my relentless pursuit to create a beautiful life with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I knew I needed to do this for my kids, my husband, and to prove to myself that a life touched by RA was still very much a life worth living.

About the author

Renee Anderson

RA warrior. Mama. Contemplating life, marriage, and motherhood through the lens of chronic pain and illness.