Women using calculater

Living with a chronic illness can be incredibly expensive. Add in the rising costs of inflation and life with rheumatoid arthritis becomes even harder. As things get more expensive, I can feel the impact on my rheumatoid arthritis and on my quality of life 

I live in Burnaby, BC, Canada, which ranks among the top five percent of the world’s most expensive cities and is currently third in Canada’s list. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment here is $3,000 a month. This starkly contrasts with the average disability payment, which doesn’t even reach $2,000, underscoring the significantly toll inflation is taking on me.  

Moving somewhere cheaper isn’t an option for me right now, mainly because of my finances and medical needs. The current neighborhood is facing a housing crisis, and cheaper rent options are few and far between. Plus, I need to be in  close proximity to my health care providers. Since I am unable to drive for medical reasons, access to transit is also essential. Although it would be nice to return to the rural setting where I grew up, it’s no longer feasible with my chronic illness. Besides, the cost difference isn’t as big as you’d think. 

Chronic Illness Comes With Lots of Hidden Expenses

Unfortunately, those with chronic illness tend to have higher expenses than the average healthy person. For example, as someone with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I constantly need to purchase medications, ergonomic aids, topical pain relief, and foods to reduce inflammation and manage pain.  

There are costs that only those living with a chronic illness can fully grasp. Think of the delivery fees on days when I’m too worn out to cook, or the quality footwear that won’t add to my pain. Sometimes, there are late fees when I’m juggling my tight budget or unexpected charges like a taxi ride on days my body just won’t cooperate. Recently, medication and stress made me put on weight, leading to more expenses for new clothes. Shedding the extra weight to better my health is on the list, but with everything being so pricey, I feel stuck in a costly loop. 

Financial Burdens and the Constant State of Worry  

Money is my main source of stress — and this has a significant and direct impact on my health. 

Before COVID-19, my budget allowed for a bit of leisure — some entertainment, treatments, nutritious groceries, vitamins, and the day-to-day essentials. But the world post-pandemic? A different story. With inflation driving up prices, it’s become tougher for folks on disability to meet even basic needs, let alone focus on enhancing health. In real terms? Inflation is making our health decline. 

This financial crunch also heaps on layers of stress, which is a direct hit to our overall well-being. Think about it: higher cortisol levels, restless nights, and a wandering mind — these are everyday struggles for those fretting about money. 

Stress is one of the largest contributors to poor health. It has the ability to cloud my thoughts and impact my sleep, making it difficult to focus and remember things. In addition, stress can also aggravate the symptoms of my RA. 

Stress can also cause me to take part in unhealthy behaviors for comfort, like eating high-sugar or salty foods, drinking alcohol or taking too much cannabis. Being stuck at home bored can increase these tendencies. 

Stress doesn’t just hover; it engulfs me. Advocating for myself or prioritizing self-care becomes a challenge when there are bills staring back at me and mouths waiting to be fed. 

The Mental Health Impact: Anxiety, Depression, and Guilt 

Struggling to provide for oneself and one’s family can lead to feelings of guilt. Additionally, the uncertainties about the future may cause anxiety and contribute to debilitating depression. When inflation pushes people to compromise on health care and nutrition, these feelings intensify. 

I don’t just have myself to feed, I am the single mom of a growing 10-year-old son. I find myself fearing how much groceries will cost as he gets older and grows bigger. 

On top of worries about the basic cost of living, being a single mom on disability brings its own set of guilt. There is no money for extra programs or activities outside of school or daily living, this weighs on me.  

Compromised Nutrition and Lack of Treatment Options 

People on disability often have specific medical conditions that require special diets and treatments, which don’t come cheap, especially with soaring inflation. Maintaining good health becomes an uphill battle due to rising costs.  Read “How to Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods and Exercise on a Budget.” 

About a week and a half’s groceries for me and my son, who’s just stepped into puberty, cost around $300 — and that’s just the basics. Nutritious food, once within my budget, has now become a luxury as prices have doubled or even tripled. It’s a lot easier to purchase processed packaged food over fresh produce. Grocery shopping has turned into a session of stress and sadness, missing the times when I could feed both of us better. 

There’s also the skyrocketing costs of alternative therapies or relief products that provide crucial support for many people on disability but are often not covered by standard insurance policies or government support programs. 

Fear of the Future and Emergency Situations 

The looming fear of unforeseen expenses haunts me. Every time I consider a significant expenditure, this worry resurfaces. For example, I recently bought myself a new Fitbit to motivate me to be more active, track my RA symptoms, and monitor my sleep. It took me months to save up the $300 — a sum that eats into a significant chunk of my monthly budget. The thought constantly nags: what if a sudden need arises, like a pet emergency or an unexpected fine? 

My fear of the future prevents me from doing things for my health. Not only did it take me a long time to save up but it took me a long time to make that purchase because I was worried about the future. I have to try and remind myself that it is okay to make purchases that will help me manage my condition better.  

My Strategies for Staying Afloat

To be honest, there is not a whole lot I can do about inflation. There are some minor things I can adjust to try to keep my expenses down but disability pay just doesn’t cut it when it comes to today’s high cost of living.  

Here are a few of the things I am doing to keep afloat: 

  • Renting space: I’ve rented out a portion of my house to help with expenses. 
  • Trimming the fat: I’ve cut unnecessary spending and ditched subscriptions I hardly tap into. 
  • Smart food choices: Instead of fresh fruit, I’ve turned to frozen. I’m also leaning more on plant-based proteins like beans and tofu. 
  • Sales and deals: I keep an eye out for sales and grab deals when I can. 
  • Thrift shopping: I’ve found value in second-hand stores. They’re wallet-friendly and sometimes, you find a gem or two. 
  • Green thumb: I’ve been gardening and my crops are flourishing with a variety of fresh herbs, veggies, and fruits. I’m prepping for the colder months by pickling, canning, and drying some of them. 
  • Advocacy and research: Being engaged in health advocacy and research is not just about passion. Occasionally, it offers a welcome honorarium. 

In the end, it is really important to advocate for better pay and reduced costs for those living with chronic illness. More support is needed for those of us with chronic illness.  

Be a More Proactive Patient with ArthritisPower

ArthritisPower is a patient-led, patient-centered research registry for joint, bone, and inflammatory skin conditions. You can participate in voluntary research studies about your health conditions and use the app to track your symptoms, disease activity, and medications — and share with your doctor. Learn more and sign up here.

  • Was This Helpful?