Take That, Ms. Know-It-All!

What to say when you're thrown a curveball question about your rheumatoid arthritis.

Dana Gottesman with Lori Murray
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Tired of all those people who make well-intentioned—but completely off-the-mark—comments about your rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? Next time you hear one, arm yourself with these quick comebacks—all test-driven by folks like you!

How to respond to...

1. ‘‘I know just what you need!’’—The medical expert 
These are the smart, well-read people who “practice” medicine—based on what works for them (or even Google searches!). They’re convinced that this [fill in the blank] will cure your problems. No matter how well-meaning, these folks aren’t medical professionals and don’t have the expertise needed to give advice on a complicated condition like rheumatoid arthritis (RA). There are just too many variables to consider!

The comeback: “Thanks for the advice; I’ll bring that up with my rheumatologist at my next appointment.”
This polite thank-you acts as a reminder that you already have a medical expert helping you.
It worked for me: “Sometimes friends offer suggestions about a new drug they’ve tried or some homeopathic treatment,” says Deirdre Conlin, 46, of Sewell, NJ, who was diagnosed with RA when she was 28. “And I’ll say ‘Oh, I’ll keep that in mind,’ and then explain what is currently working for me. I’m not going to consider or change anything without speaking with my doctor first, to decide if it’ll really work.”

2. ‘‘You’re too young to have arthritis!’’—The “all or nothing” thinker
No matter how you’re feeling or what you’re doing to treat your condition, these people make it known that you’re wrong! They paint every person who’s got arthritis with the same brush and rely on stereotypes.

The comeback: “Oh, a lot of people think that, but it’s not true in my case.”
This will be a cue to the commenter to avoid making knee-jerk assumptions. You can then opt to explain what is true or just end the conversation right there!
It worked for me: “People would often tell me I’m too young to have RA, especially if I said something about having joint pain or being on meds,” says Deirdre. She’s also had to deal with people on the other side of the spectrum: Those who assume that RA keeps you from living a full life. When someone is surprised to hear she has RA, she explains that, like anyone, she has good days and bad, and has learned how to roll with the punches. She proudly tells them: “I walk every night with my dog, work on my feet all day as a nurse and do all my own house chores!”

3. ‘‘Eww, I really hate needles!’—The blurter
These people don’t have any filter! Unfortunately, that’s probably how they respond to everything, so don’t waste time setting the record straight.

The comeback: “Yes—and you should see how long the needle is!”
Ideally, you’d avoid saying anything about your condition around them. If that’s not possible, use this improv comedy reply. The “Yes, and…” works because it makes the person stop and wonder why you agree, and then you exaggerate the reason. Or you can take the opposite tact and disagree: “That’s funny, ’cause I’m not scared of needles at all!”
It worked for me: “Everyone is surprised and shocked when they learn that I have an infusion once a month to treat my RA,” says Honey Levin, 70, of Scottsdale, AZ, “but it’s not a big deal to me. Some people will go ‘Eww!’ I think initially, it’s irksome to hear that. But I say: ‘It’s my spa day! I’m there for a couple hours to get the infusion. Everyone in the center is chatty, and I make the best of it!’ ”

April 2013