I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the young age of 26, which was 28 years, six children, and two husbands ago. I have had my share of difficulties in managing my life with severe RA and handling dating and relationships.
RA is not who I am, but it certainly ended up being a part of me. Yes, it has become "my luggage," as I like to call it (a less harsh word than "baggage"). Relationships and dating can be stressful, regardless of having an illness or not, but when dealing with a chronic illness like rheumatoid arthritis, there is definitely an added hurdle.
After more than two decades battling this disease, I realize that there are no set rules for dating and relationships. It is variable and diverse with each and every one of us, depending on where we are in relation to our diagnosis and our management of the unpredictability of our RA symptoms.
The most important thing that worked for me when I was stepping into the dating world was that I needed to take the time first, to develop a good, strong understanding and relationship with myself and my disease. This included making sure I was able to cope and manage as best I could with my specific symptoms of RA.
As hard as it can be living with rheumatoid arthritis and the chronic pain and flare-ups, I feel my positive outlook on life has been key to my relationships' future. Reflecting on these past years, I feel that the hardships I have endured have developed into strength and character that I feel have been surprisingly attractive to others. Believe it or not, RA, which I thought was my lifelong "burden," became one of my most endearing assets.
It takes a lot of effort and hard work to focus on self-awareness and positive thinking to maintain a "healthy" relationship, most importantly with yourself. Once I established that relationship with myself, I was able to move forward and have a sustainable relationship with another person. I have always felt that if and when another "empathetic" person would come into my life, it would definitely be an added bonus.
I know firsthand how the realities of rheumatoid arthritis can bring out the best and worst in a partner. I wanted to have people in my life to help me move forward. The final outcome, I realized, was how much of a true test it is in showing just how strong a person can or cannot be. I lost my first husband not because of my RA but because of the person he was and the person he chose not to be. I did remarry a man that has proven to be my hero and especially my advocate. He supports and cares for me because he has chosen to be that person and continues to be that person, in "sickness and in health." I am blessed.