How to handle the crazy things that people say

by Collette McColgan

So, you tell them you have arthritis and they try to respond sensitively but end up saying something daft. Here are some common dafties and how to handle them

1. “Isn’t that an old person’s disease?”

This is a classic, and definitely the most common reaction to the news that you have arthritis. While there’s no getting away from the fact that arthritis is a condition associated with the elderly, it is actually surprisingly common in younger people. There are 12,000 children in the UK who have arthritis, and 27,000 of all people living with arthritis are under 25. So we’re not that special after all!

2. “Does it hurt?”

The short answer? Yes. The slightly longer one? No, not all the time, I’m quite lucky and I take a lot of medicine to control it and it’s really working at the moment. I always find this a hard question to answer because I don’t really want to spend my whole life moaning, but realistically I am only going to tell someone that I have arthritis in the first place if I’m either in pain and they need to know about it, or if they’ve asked me about my limp. Which brings me to my next point…

3. “Aw, you do really well”

This kind of comment raises mixed emotions for me. I appreciate that you think I’m coping with my arthritis, I really do. But does that mean that before you knew I had it you thought I wasn’t coping well? Or does it genuinely mean that you think I’m a brave arthritis warrior who doesn’t let it get me down? I’m hoping for the latter, but I’m just a bit paranoid.

4. “My gran’s got that”

Arthritis is dead common. It’s so common that everyone knows someone who has it – there are 10 million of us, after all. The trouble with the term “arthritis” is that it covers over 200 different conditions, and they really are all very different. Chances are, me and your gran don’t have the same type. It’s nice when people recognise the similar aspects of the condition (joint pain, fatigue) and can relate to it though.

5. “Oh, is that why you limp then?”

Yes, it is. I don’t want to seem delusional here, but I do like to spend my life trying to imagine that people don’t notice I’ve got arthritis unless I tell them. I have very sweet friends who say that they didn’t notice my limp / funny hands / perma-bent elbows until I told them about them. That’s nice – I know they’re lying to make me feel better, and I appreciate that. What I don’t appreciate is the sudden realisation that I’m just walking about this world in a daydream, getting on with my life, meanwhile people are looking at me and thinking: “I wonder what causes that girl’s limp”. It’s an effortless, sexy wiggle – Marilyn Monroe had to shave a ¼ inch off her  high heels to get one like this, and I got mine for free!

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