When you are first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, it is pretty normal to be self-absorbed. How will this affect ME? How will I survive? Why aren’t family and friends helping ME more? However, with time and patience, you realize that you need a community of friends who understand exactly what you are going through. You learn that you aren’t a burden to them because they understand completely what you are going through and will truthfully answer questions such as, “Did you gain a lot of weight on a biologic?” or “Do you get a lump on your hand when flaring or is it just me?”
Sharing your RA journey with those who understand your health condition best is amazing. However, the true gift comes when you discover that over the years we have truly become friends. You know each other’s RA stories, but you also know intimate parts of each others lives. The self-absorbed feelings you had before become one of love and concern for those who you now call friends.
Lene Andersen from The Seated View is a friend I met early on. I remember an email where we shared that our online conversations were similar to sitting at a coffee shop sharing tea together. They were easy and comfortable. We now regularly talk on the phone or mix pleasure with work as we do Facebook Lives together. I often call Lene my “RA mentor” because she understands RA better than almost anyone I know, but more importantly, has been the type of friend to call me out when I am doing too much and throw my body into a flare. She doesn’t hesitate to tell me in a very nice way when I exaggerate what I see on social media. (Hey, she gets me.) During phone calls, she intentionally takes time to listen to me and ask questions. She knows me well enough to know that being the listener comes naturally to me but sometimes I need to be the one who is heard. I feel safe and secure sharing parenting frustrations or work dilemmas. Our relationship has evolved past our health conditions. She understands that RA is just one part of my life and has always taken time to get to know all the parts of me. I hope I do the same for her.
In 2016, Lene and I had been texting each other when all communication stopped. At first, I figured she was busy. Then, I worried. Luckily, I had The Boy’s email and once he had time, he was able to keep me updated. It was through this life threatening experience for Lene that I told my husband that meeting Lene in person was on my RA bucket list. I remember tearing up, knowing this was a friend for life who I needed to personally hug.
This month, I was able to make this wish a reality when we planned a trip to Toronto. To be honest, I sometimes worry when people meet me in person. Will they still like me? Will they be disappointed? I can’t say how Lene felt, but for me, it was a powerful experience.
Lene is fun! What I have always loved about her as a mentor/friend is she reminds me how wonderful life is each and every day. As I walked around Toronto the first day with my husband, I wondered aloud if we were on the same part of the beach as Lene has been (she shares photos of being on the beach.) When we met up in person, she smiled big. I instantly felt comfortable. Throughout the night, I realized she is all I have known she would be plus more. I knew she would be smart and funny, but wow, she is also fast! Plus, The Boy is fantastic.
Next time, I want to visit without other vacation plans so we can sit and sip tea together and have long conversations. But for now, my heart feels satisfied knowing one of my goals in life can be checked off. Virtual hugs are nice, but hugging one of your best friends in person is the best.