It took more than a year of trying different medications for Williams to feel that his arthritis was under control. He found the most success with a biological drug, which he continues to use today. With his arthritis better controlled, he felt more confident about sharing the news with those at work.

“I’m up front with the folks here at the station,” says Williams. “It’s been helpful in some regards, because they will come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I have a friend who was just diagnosed with arthritis,’ and it’s a good way to educate them on the medications and how they’ve helped me. It’s also opened up the communication lines with other friends and patients, too.”  

An expert says: “If people know what’s going on with you, they can be more tolerant and supportive of you,” says Ken Wallston, PhD, professor of psychology in nursing at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

“And you generally feel better with social support. If you’re having a bad day, for example, people understand and they may be more likely to give help.”

Seeking people who have struggled with health issues themselves, even if they’re not the same as yours, can prove helpful. “Everybody has something health-wise - or knows someone who has something,” says Wallston, who has studied the disclosure of health issues for 40 years. “Everybody has to cope with something.” 

Jessica

Jessica* has only known life with arthritis. She was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) and uveitis (inflammation of the eye that can lead to blindness) at nine months old.

Two years ago, Jessica had surgery on her left eye, which caused her vision to worsen. A recent flare caused additional vision loss, but she continues to see well with corrective glasses and soft contacts.

“The people who I am closest to in my life – they know [I have arthritis],” says Jessica, 24, now living in New York City. “But I don’t want to talk with everyone about it. I’ve looked into support groups, and considered joining, but I don’t really feel the need to discuss it with other people because I feel OK with it myself.

“When I have told people, it always requires a long explanation, and I hate to go through it again and again,” she says. “I think as long as you have that core group who knows, you’re OK.”

She admits that she has butted heads with her mom over her decision not to tell people. “My mom doesn’t quite understand why I don’t tell more people. She tells all of her friends, and I get mad at her about it because I don’t necessarily want everyone knowing,” says Jessica. “I try to be patient with her. I know she just wants to make sure I have someone to confide in.”