Navigating this strange worldThe day before last, my friend called me in a frenzy. “We have two tickets to ‘The Fault in Their Stars’. Aren’t you excited?!” This friend in particular has posters of Dawson’s Creek and The Notebook all over her apartment. Reasonably so, I began to worry. I looked up the movie and found out the plot was about two young people with cancer, two young sick people, in love.

Just the idea gave me the chills.

“You have got to be kidding me Ana!” I protested. No way was I willing to relive the seven long days I spent in the hospital last year. Yet I found myself that night in the seat next to her at the theater.

During the movie, I began to think. The storyline was actually quite pretty.  Truly how sweet that the two protagonists, Hazel and Gus, found each other. However, the reality of finding your ideal match in real life is a little different, especially for people with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and similar diseases.

While you are busy starting your career, finding yourself as a person and paying bills just like the rest of young adults, you are also battling with the insurance company and the pharmacy (if you are lucky enough to have them), learning how to manage the side effects of your medicine and negotiating reasonable accommodations with your employer.

Although it embarrasses me to admit it, lately, if the tiniest bit of time is left over in the day, I will grab some cereal and watch Netflix right before sleeping. I fall quite literally into bed.

Latinos with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis have an even more unique situation as we have different expectations than many non-Latinos. First off, as a rule, we take care of each other in our families. We set aside a lot of our free time to spend with la familia. We take care of the elderly, the little ones and we support relatives in their time of need.

Secondly, because the family is our first system of support and love, there is a lot of pressure to get married, especially if you are a woman.

When you are trying to find a balance living a life with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, when your body is changing and you fear that the prednisone has made you into the twin sister of Paquita la del Barrio, it can seem like mission impossible!

However, it was a quote from Michael J. Fox that gave me clarity: “Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it.”

Touché Michael! In this spirit, ¡Vamos with the 10 rules of finding your match while arthritic and Latino!

  1. You and your health come first. Period. End of sentence. Exercise is non-negotiable because it releases hormones that fight depression. Furthermore, with exercise you alleviate stiffness and maintain a healthy weight.  I recommend you try Zumba in the pool.
  2. We all need to laugh, live in community, feel useful and continue to learn and grow. If you can, develop yourself more with a photography, painting or creative writing class.
  3. When you do go out with someone, don’t lower your eyes and dip your shoulders, informing them in shame you have JRA. Simply, after one or two dates, talk to them about your interests and tell him or her about it as if it were a chapter in the book of your life. If they have questions, educate them, but don’t go into the dirty and colorful (although they may be very interesting indeed) details of your surgeries and scars.
  4. You are looking for a partner, someone who suits you, who will support you, who complements you. If the person you are seeing is afraid of a simple disease, imagine how they would be as a spouse! In this weird world we all live in, having JRA is a small but great test of character.
  5. Use your background to your advantage and turn to your community! Your cousins have friends. Talk to your godparents, siblings and brother/sister-in-laws.  Las abuelitas in your church and city are in your business by nature. They would love to help you. Maybe the girl that works with your mom has a crush on you or the lady that does your hair knows the perfect muchacho for you.
  6. Don’t forget about your spirituality. It doesn’t really matter whether you are Buddhist, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish or just have your own way of understanding and believing in God.Personally, I have my candles of the Virgin of Fatima with photos of my grandparents and great-grandparents. Each night, I pray for my family, my friends, my health, but also for the patience to find the right person for me.
  7. I would say that the great majority of people with JRA battle tremendous fatigue. It is all about getting to know yourself and your body. For example, when I plan my dates, I prefer to go out earlier so I am more energetic, less stiff, less in pain and enjoy the night with a bit of sassiness.
  8. Given that people with JRA only have a certain amount of energy, your aim is to look more intelligently in your search, not cover every corner of the globe. Pick 2-3 evenings during the week to go out. Sign up for meetup.com, go out with friends or cousins, take a class towards your master’s degree, go to the gym. It doesn’t matter what you do but don’t stay home!
  9. There is always the option of online dating.   From my own experience, I’ve learned to only use paid sites.  Online dating has some great benefits.  You can select you would like in a partner and sometimes the algorithm will send you what you want! A word of caution:  Always meet the person in a public place and let a good friend or family member know where you are and when you are coming back. (I know…My family would love to obsess on the details too.)
  10. Last but not least, make a goal for the following year, something that you have never dreamed of doing. Continue your education. Move to another place. Make two new friends each month. Walk in a marathon. Learn again to ride a bike. You will grow as a person and it is only a question of time before someone good notices you.

Your friend,

Katiuska