PERSONAL STORY NETWORK
Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Caregivers Perspective
My wife, Penny, has rheumatoid arthritis, but the way I see it, being her caregiver is no different from being her husband. Caring for someone you love dearly is just a natural response. Maybe if we weren’t in a committed relationship it would be a different story, but we’ve been married for over 45 years. The commitment makes it very easy.
For many years, when I was suffering from heart disease, Penny did everything she could to make me happy. Even now, it’s a two-way street. So in many ways, I feel blessed to be in this position where I can reciprocate.
That’s not to say I don’t get frustrated on occasion. But it’s not frustration with Penny, it’s frustration with myself. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition, and more often than not, the joints become worse over time. Understanding what this means for Penny, I’ll gladly do everything I can to keep her rheumatoid arthritis from progressing. But I can’t make her pain go away—I would if I could, but I can’t.
If her condition becomes worse, it’s hard to suppress the feeling that I’ve failed in some way. I need to remind myself that this is just part of life with a chronic condition.
My advice to anyone caregiving for someone with a chronic condition is to find a way to release the frustration. For me, exercise can be tremendously helpful. Getting the muscles moving and the blood flowing brings great relief. I recently joined a gym near our new apartment—it’s been absolutely wonderful.
Our whole new environment has really proved to be a blessing in disguise. It’s not just the gym—it’s new shops to explore, new sights to see, and more time to do it. We’re not doing anything special. We’re just spending more time together. And it’s funny, Penny’s rheumatoid arthritis was actually one of the main reasons we moved out of our house in the first place.
Relationships can be bumpy—we’re proud of our 45 years together. I think we’ve come to realize that this is the big pay-off. There’s nothing else we want or need.
And there’s still no one whose company I enjoy more—on the good days and the bad.
Malcolm Smith lives in Kennesaw, Georgia, with his wife, Penny—and appreciates every minute of it.