Arthritis

Friends and social life

In this section young people talk about friendship. They describe how arthritis sometimes has an impact on their social life, how friends can support them practically and emotionally, and the things they do with friends for fun.
 
Having fun with friends
Having arthritis doesn’t mean that you have to stop having fun with your friends. Some people may find that arthritis doesn’t really affect their social life and they can carry on doing most of the things they enjoy. This can happen when people’s symptoms are not too severe or when their medications work well. People may also find that they can still join in with activities if they take it easy. Tom went paintballing for his friends 18th birthday. He asked them to give him a chance because he couldn’t run and kneel down like the others. Rebecca doesn’t feel that her arthritis affects her social life because it’s not so bad she has to stay in the house lots. Joseph went out less when he had arthritis but when he went into remission he had the “freedom” to do what he wanted.
Sometimes people are determined to socialise and meet up with friends, even if they’re in pain or fatigued. Some push themselves so they don’t miss out on important social events like school proms, parties, and holidays.
If people are in too much pain or have mobility difficulties they may struggle to do some of the things they enjoy, such as sports or clubbing.
Missing out on social activities can make people feel frustrated, upset and depressed. When Elizabeth was younger her school friends stopped inviting her round for parties and sleepovers because she was often too tired to come. This made her feel “excluded” and “lonely”. Elly felt “separate” from the people in her school because she was unable to go outside and stand with them (see ‘Emotional challenges’ and ‘Coping with emotions’).
 
Some of the people we talked to found different ways of relaxing with friends, such as shopping or going to restaurants. If you’re having a flare up or don’t feel well enough to go out then you can still have fun by inviting friends to your house. People talked about cooking for friends, chilling out and watching DVDs, and chatting. Ryan found it uncomfortable sleeping at his friends’ houses because he didn’t have his special mattress so they now stay at his instead.
Alcohol
Some medications are known to interact with alcohol and cause serious problems. For example, drinking alcohol whilst on methotrexate can cause liver damage. You should always seek advice from your doctor before you drink.
 
Drinking alcohol, or going to places where alcohol was drunk, was a particular concern for some of the young people we spoke to. They explained that drinking was a big part of youth culture, especially at university. Sometimes people couldn’t drink because of the medications they were on but felt the pressure to drink in order to fit in with their friends. This could make people feel isolated if they are not doing things that are seen as the ‘norm’.
Some people didn’t like to go to places associated with drinking like pubs and clubs. For example, David Z said that he felt “selfish” going to a club. He couldn’t stand for long or dance with his friends but didn’t want to stop them from having a good time. Others were happy to go out with friends and stay sober or have the odd drink. They could still have fun without drinking and felt it was better than staying home alone. People talked about taking part in drinking games at university but having soft drinks or chocolates instead of alcohol or nominating somebody to take a drink on their behalf. When Lu was at university she kept her arthritis a secret and told people she couldn’t drink because she was on antibiotics when she wasn’t. When she started work a colleague used to give her cola and pass it off as vodka and cola. Rebecca didn’t watch how much she drank when she went out. She liked to “let loose” at the weekend and “have fun”. She also finds it frustrating when everyone around her is drunk and she is sober (see ‘Alcohol, smoking and illegal drugs’).
 
Talking about arthritis
Talking about arthritis is easy for some but can be difficult for others. People sometimes worry what their friends will think of them and how they will react. Some of the people we spoke to kept their arthritis a secret for a while, or chose only to tell certain friends. They were sometimes happy to talk about the condition with old friends but didn’t tell new friends until they got to know them better. Cat didn’t know that her close friend also had arthritis until she asked her for sponsorship to run a marathon. She said, “We don’t go round shouting about it”. Tom was open about his arthritis but didn’t want to come across as “attention seeking”.
Friends can react differently when they learn that somebody has arthritis. David Z’s friends didn’t change how they acted around him when he told them about his diagnosis. He said this was partly because his friends knew enough about his condition and didn’t feel the need to change. He also felt it helped that he didn’t look like he had arthritis.
Some of the people we spoke to said that even though their friends knew that they had arthritis they didn’t always understand what it was and how it could affect them. People with arthritis sometimes tried to look at things from their friend’s perspective. Kerrie explained that it’s hard for friends to know how she is feeling because arthritis “isn’t necessarily on the surface all the time”. She hides her pain from her friends but gets frustrated when they don’t understand why she does certain things. Cat used to get very frustrated with her friends but now realises it’s not their fault that they don’t understand. She said that it’s difficult for people to understand unless they have arthritis themselves or are close to someone with arthritis.  Michelle found it hard to look at things from her housemates’ perspectives. She didn’t understand why they don’t talk much about her arthritis.
Some people felt that a good sense of humour was needed to deal with the realities of arthritis. Caitriona is happy to make fun of her condition and call herself a “cripple”. She said using humour is one way of educating people about the condition. Elizabeth said she had a dark sense of humour and this made people want to talk to her and get to know her. She uses humour when talking about arthritis to new people to make them feel comfortable around her. David Y said that some people can’t hide the fact they have arthritis so there’s an increased likelihood that people will ask questions about what is wrong. He said that people are more likely to ask questions if someone is in a wheelchair or the problem is visible. This can help ‘break the ice’ when people meet.
 
The ways friends help out
Some of the people who talked to us described the different ways their friends helped out. Friends can offer emotional support when times are hard – they listen to your troubles and try to understand what you are going through. Friends are people you can trust and talk to and who won’t talk about you behind your back. If you are having a bad day friends can “brighten it up” by speaking on the phone, coming round your house to cheer you up or taking you out shopping or to the pub. People talked about friends being there when times were hard and sticking by them if their condition got worse.
Friends at school or college may help out by carrying heavy things for you like bags and lunches, or by writing in your book if you are too sore to do it yourself. They find you chairs and go in the college lift with you so you don’t have to be by yourself. Friends sometimes know when you are having a bad day without you needing to tell them. They give you a lift if you can’t walk and let you have the last seat on the train.
Friends can turn a difficult or embarrassing situation into a fun one. Anna had a bad flare up during a school trip to Germany and forgot her crutches. Instead of staying in the hostel her friends had fun carrying her around and acting as her crutches for the day. Ryan’s friends used to argue about who got to push his wheelchair first. He was worried that his friends would break the chair when they played with it, but found it funny when they struggled to use his crutches.
David Y explained that people who queue jump often do so because the disabled access entrance is located in a different place to that of the “normal” entrance. This can make queue jumping a negative thing and make people feel different.
 
Meeting up with friends can distract people from the pain. If Rebecca is in lots of pain she avoids going out because she gets grumpy and struggles to follow conversations. However, if her pain is more “tolerable” then going out with friends takes her mind off the pain.
 
Loneliness, worrying about friends and making new friends
Not everyone had problems making or keeping friends, but some of the people we spoke to said they had had difficulties in the past. Tom had good friends but a girl with arthritis told him she didn’t have many friends because people were afraid of catching her “granny disease”. Dan had a similar problem growing up and stayed in lots because people didn’t want to play with him. Sometimes people at school miss lots of classes because of their arthritis and sacrifice spending time with friends in order to catch up on the work.
 
Sometimes the young people we spoke to worried about the impact their arthritis had on friends. Cat was once told she was “boring” on a night out because she didn’t have the energy to be her usual “bubbly” and “chatty” self. It frustrated her to think she may come across as boring or “in a mood” when she’s very tired. Sarah worried that her condition “could drag someone else down”. Some people didn’t like to talk about their arthritis with people they didn’t know. Charlotte Y didn’t like it when her friends point out other people’s disabilities. She has difficulties herself and doesn’t feel like she fits in with her friends when they refer to others as “disabled”.
Some people found that they made new friends when they moved schools or went to college or university. When Elly was at school in the UK she was known as the girl with arthritis, but when she moved to America she had a fresh start and became the “English girl with the funny accent”. Sometimes people had different groups of friends. For example, David Y had friends he could study with, friends he could go out with in the evening who didn’t drink, and friends he could play in a band with. Elizabeth found it easier to make new friends through existing friends. This way she can joke about her arthritis with her existing friends and introduce her condition to the new person using humour. People also talked about meeting people by joining youth clubs or university societies or going abroad to study.


Last reviewed August 2015.

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