Tag Archives: chronicillness

We’re Going to Disney World- and I have to take EDS with me.

Y’all, I’m going back to Disney World in a few days, and I am beyond excited. Okay, at this exact moment, I’m beyond stressed. I hate packing. I hate preparing to leave. I’ll sum it up like this- Tonight’s dinner came from Dollar Tree, because I was too tired to walk through the grocery store. (I bought frozen vegetables. I feel like I deserve a medal for not deciding tonight’s dinner would be peach rings and circus peanuts.) I’m trying to rest, so I’ll feel decent once we get to Disney. But, seriously, who has time to rest when they’re preparing for a trip?

I’m going to let all of you in on a secret. Last year’s Disney trip wasn’t exactly stellar. Don’t get me wrong; Joe and I had a great time. But I sort of fell apart. My neck developed new pain (I didn’t think that was possible) so severe that I actually lost vision in one eye for a while. That whole situation never fully resolved. (Although, both eyes work again, thankfully.) I missed an entire day of fun, because I couldn’t keep food down. I’m guessing my problem was a combination of dehydration and pain, but I’m not entirely sure. The skin on my forearms literally fell off, because EDS skin and vinyl arm rests on wheelchairs (with the addition of 100 degree Florida heat) are apparently opposed to one another. In short, I was a mess.

In order to go back to the Most Magical Place On Earth, I’ve had to make a few changes. And since a lot of my blog readers are also living the chronic life, I thought I’d share my changes in hopes they’ll help someone else enjoy their vacation with relatively few medical meltdowns.

I’m leaving Snookie at home.

If you’re new to the blog, you might be wondering why I’m leaving my (very unfortunately named) child at home. Snookie is my wheelchair, and she’s basically been my bestie for the past three years. BUT, I’ve outgrown her in terms of needs. (Yes, I can still fit myself into Snooks.) Snookie, though fabulous, is a very bumpy ride, and Disney World tends to have rough pavement anyway. My neck and back are no longer well-suited for the bumpiness of a manual wheelchair. (I’m sure Joe’s back is duly grateful.)

Instead, I’m renting a scooter for the first time. I ran across an amazing company called “Disney World Scooter Rental” that will deliver a scooter to my hotel and provide on-site user training (Yikes! You can expect to see a video of that hot mess.). I came across DWSR when I saw a post they had made defending their clients who need to use mobility devices in the park. They were responding to a comment on their site about how those with disabilities should just stay home. (People are jerks sometimes, am I right?) Anyway, DWSR replied to the comment in defense of all of us who deserve to enjoy their vacation just as much as our able-bodied counterparts. I instantly fell in love with the company, and I am excited to try their services. They’ve already been awesome at answering my questions when I needed to find a scooter model to rent that wasn’t difficult on my upper body to maneuver. (The scooters that require you to push a button with your thumb to accelerate cause my thumbs to dislocate.) I’ll leave a full review after the trip, but I’m expecting this to be a great experience.

For those of you wondering, the new wheelchair will be named after another super obnoxious reality star- Abby Lee. (Although, I think the real AL is serving time in prison now, so maybe I should name her Free Abby Lee instead.)

Amazon Prime delivers to Disney.

I love Amazon Prime. I mean, it’s shameful how much stuff I purchase via Prime. I have no clue why this hasn’t occurred to me sooner, but I can order stuff through Prime to be sent to my hotel! Why is this so exciting? Last year, I struggled with hydration. Yes, you can get free water at any counter service restaurant in the parks. However, my body isn’t patient enough to wait until I get up, get ready, wait in line for the bus and security, and actually get into the park before I start hydrating. Not to mention that water isn’t exactly the gold standard for hydration when you’re medically complicated. (Electrolytes are important, kids.) My problem last year was that I would tell Joe, “No, I’m fine. I can finish my water bottle from last night rather than buy a Gatorade for $4 before we leave the hotel.” Then, I would get to the park and already be dehydrated, tachycardic, and nauseous from the Florida heat before we started our day.

This year, I’ve ordered water, Gatorade, and breakfast bars for our hotel room. I contacted Disney to make sure this is okay, and they sent me the address (and a warning that I might have to pay a $5 handling fee- basically the cost of 1 gatorade).

For those of you keeping score, that means I’ve found an affordable solution to my Disney related hydration issues as well.

Hot/ Cold packs- duh.

I am nothing without my heating pad and ice packs. I have no clue why it didn’t occur to me to take them with me on vacation. Last year, I was trying to “ice” my head and neck with the condensation on my Disney mug. Not exactly helpful. This year, I’ve bought a few hot/ cold packs (that can be frozen or microwave) to take with me. I don’t plan to take them with me into the parks- although that could happen. My plan is to use them in the evening when I’m trying to melt off some of the pain of the day. Again, I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this sooner.

I’ve addressed mobility, hydration, and pain management issues from last year. It’s not a perfect plan, because the reality of vacation with a chronic illness is that anything can happen. However, I’m learning every year. Joe and I love Disney World, and I don’t plan to give up our trips without one heck of a fight. If you want to join us on our trip, make sure you like my blogger page- CrazyChronicLife We plan to do some live videos of the things we see and do at WDW. I’ll upload pictures, videos, and live events to the page.

Also, it’s a little early to be spilling these particular beans, but Joe and I are planning to release our co-authored chronic illness guidebook as soon as we return from Disney World. I’ll give more details as we get closer to the release date, so, for now, just join us for vacationing fun.

Peace. Love. Health.
And, oh yeah, Mouse Ears.

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5 Ways I’m NOT a Total Drain on a Relationship

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about why it’s so hard to be married to someone with a chronic illness. It is. Joe puts up with a lot. He is as affected by my unusual sleep/wake schedule, my unpredictable pain levels, and the general emotional roller coaster of illness as I am. He drives me to appointments, suffers through medical jargon, and hopes for better days right along with me. I’m not trying to minimize his sacrifice, because it is most definitely significant.

Even though I recognize all Joe does for me, I’m sometimes exhausted by people who act like Joe is the holiest of saints for putting up with his crippled, reject wife. I’m aware of the sad glances, the hushed voices, the people who ask Joe how I’m doing- even when I’m standing there- because they assume he’s managing my care. To some degree, I’m glad they see his silent heroism. I’m glad they see that he is a trooper who has dedicated his life to making the best of a bad situation. Seriously, he’s awesome. If you would like to invite him twirl the baton in any parade, I’ll be the person cheering the loudest.

BUT I’m still a human. I’m still a vital part of this relationship. As a matter of fact, if I weren’t here, I sort of think Joe would get lonely. While I think Joe is the most fabulous of the male species (let’s be honest, males are their own distinct species), I think he and I need each other- rather than I simply need him and he kindly and good naturedly puts up with my drama.

1. We have fun together. Believe it or not, my life with Joe is at least 80% Netflix binges, sing alongs while we cook, puppy snuggles (with the dog- that’s not a code or anything), and philosophical discussions that make my eyes cross. The other 20% is less fun, of course. But, seriously, I know people that would love to have an 80% enjoyable life.

2. My brain is mostly functional. Sure, there are brain fog moments (which sometimes add some silly laughter to the 80% of fun in our lives), but for the most part even when I can’t walk, sit up for long, or do basic household chores- I can still think. That means I can help Joe brainstorm for book ideas, teaching techniques, or general household problem solving. I’m not completely useless. There are days that I feel completely useless, but I’m glad I still have a way to contribute.

3. I’m a good listener. Joe and I haven’t kept it a secret that he struggles with depression. I realize that depression is a complicated illness that requires much more than a good listener, and I’m forever thankful for doctors, therapists, and medication. However, I still believe that I have a role in his success despite obstacles. I listen to him. I occasionally offer advice. (Actually, I typically offer advice, but it’s only good advice on occasion.) I love this guy, and I want to do my part to make this life simpler.

4. I love the people he loves. My best advice to anyone in a new relationship is to learn to love who your significant other loves. His parents hold a special place in my heart, and I do all I can to help Joe as he cares for his parents. I’ve developed an affection for Joe’s friends, because it’s easy to love someone who loves my husband and treats him well.

5. I’m a valid excuse. Okay, this one might not be a “good” reason why I’m not a total drain, but it’s true. Here’s the thing- fevers and dislocated joints are a part of my daily existence. That stinks; it really does. BUT if there’s ever anything Joe really doesn’t want to do he can truthfully say, “My wife dislocated her hip and needs some help around the house.” Or “My wife is running a fever and vomiting. I don’t need to leave her.” Granted, he hasn’t utilized those excuses (except when I actually needed someone to stay with me), but I like knowing they’re there. It makes me feel like he’s getting a little something out of being married to me. Edit: Joe says he used me as an excuse once when he was sitting next to a really strange man at a meeting. My apologies to our friend, Twyla, because he left her alone with said unusual man.

I’ll grant you some of my reasoning is silly. I’ll even grant that most of the things on my list should be expected of anyone in a healthy relationship. However, I want the world to see that when you’re married to someone who is disabled, it’s not always a labor of love. Sure, there are bizarre moments that would never happen in a relationship between two able bodied adults, but for the most part we’re normal. Joe didn’t have to sell his soul or his life to get married to this hot mess. Do I regret that I brought illness into his life? Sure, I would totally change it if I could- for both of us. That, however, does not give me an excuse not to be as good of a partner as I am capable of being.

Peace, love, and health, friends.

The Interesting “Side Effect” of Being Chronically Ill

When you become sick you enter into a secret world you never imagined you would even visit. You enter a world where “dress up days” are for doctors’ appointments, and showers are a luxury rather than a routine. You trade fashionable clothes for pajamas. Girls’ (or Guys’) Night Out is exchanged for a snuggle night with your fur baby and Netflix. (Let’s all take a collective moment to appreciate all that binge watching has brought to our lives . . .)

And all of that . . . well, it sort of stinks. I like yoga pants as much as the next 30 something, but it would be super nice if I were wearing them because I like the look rather than because jeans will cause my hip to dislocate. There are a lot of unfortunate tradeoffs when your life deters into the world of illness, and I won’t lie- I’m typically not a fan of all this life offers.

However, there is one super fantastic thing that happens when you’re chronically ill. Even though I would gladly exchange health for this perk, I’m glad it exists. It’s basically the only redeeming quality. When you are chronically ill . . . you get an extra family. In my first few days and weeks of realizing that illness had become a part of my life, I had never been lonelier. It wasn’t until I saw the phrase “chronic illness” that I realized I had a new identity. I was chronically ill. Armed with that phrase, I began searching for “my people.” Thank God for social media. Thank all that is good and holy that I found Facebook groups for the chronically ill. You know what? No one tells you when you become chronically ill that you inherit an entire family of supporters through Facebook, IG, and Twitter.

I get it. I know there is more to life than social media. I understand the risks of spending your life connected to social media rather than the life that is going on around you. However, the life that is going on around me isn’t terribly glamorous. Today, I’ve kept up with my medicine schedule, taken injections, and worried about my bladder pacemaker. Does that sound like something you wouldn’t want to be distracted from? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Don’t get me wrong. I have a wonderful family and friends. They do all they can to support me. However, it doesn’t change the fact that they haven’t traveled this exact road of illness that I’m experiencing.

Why does it matter? A few months ago I posted to one of my chronic illness support groups that I felt discouraged. I explained to them that I had been trying to go to the gym, and I was accumulating far more injuries than progress. You know what? They GOT it. My online family reassured me that effort counts. They told me success stories- as well as their stories of dismal failures. Of course, every human has experienced health gains and fails, but only the chronic illness community can truly understand the struggle. Only my chronic illness family understands the pain of doing your best and having a body that just won’t cooperate. In that moment- in so many moments- having someone to say, “Yeah, I feel your pain” means infinitely more than advice.

In so many other instances, I’ve seen friends who had a daunting diagnosis, a failed relationship, or a traumatic doctor’s office experience receive support and love from dozens of people who have never met them. We support each other. We empathize. We ultimately strive to hold each other in this painful game of life as well as possible. For that, I am beyond grateful.

Years ago, before my health struggle became blatant, I would have told you I have all the friend and family support I need. I would have told you that it’s impossible to trust friends you have never met face to face. I would have believed that face to face encounters matter more than the relationships we forge through online communities. To some degree, I still believe that. However, I am forever grateful that I have an online family that understands the “sick life.” I love that people I have never met know that I love Disney more than any adult should, so they tag me into cute Disney memes. I appreciate that my odd obsession for sloths hasn’t gone unnoticed by my Facebook friends. I am grateful that I exist in a world that thinks I’m “normal.” The real world thinks I’m little more than the victim of unfortunate circumstances; my online chronic illness family knows that I’m doing my best. They see my struggle because it mirrors their own situation. They know I’m doing my best- even when that means I’m stuck on the couch for days.

Chronic illness bites. It’s a life sentence without parole that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. However, there is one wonderful side effect- online support. It exists, and it makes my days and nights more tolerable. As much as I appreciate my online family, I am fairly confident I’m not the only one. I’m guessing that throughout the community of chronically ill people, there are many who have benefited from the love and support of their new online family. That . . . well, that restores my faith in this chronic life. We have each other to lean on, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that really matters.

Have I mentioned that my online family is also great at suggesting binge worthy shows from Netflix? Yeah, that makes them awesome too.

Peace, love, and health, friends. 

Want more Crazy, Chronic Life? The blog has been compiled into an e-book via Amazon. Check it out, please! 💙  Newly Wed and Stuck in Bed- Chronic Illness, You Don’t Know ME!Click here to check it out!

Sorry, not sorry. Social media is my bestie.

My husband is the ultimate extrovert. Put him in a crowded room and he’ll feed off the energy for days. Me? Well, the very thought of a crowded concert or even a potluck makes me cringe. I love people, but I’m not a person who can work a room. It’s unsettling for me. Add to that the constant fear of brain fog moments, health issues, and general social anxiety, and I’m a hot mess in a crowded room.

This seems to be the lament of many of my chronic illness friends. It’s not that we don’t like people, but rather that being around people is complicated. When you feel bad it’s hard to have the ambition for social engagements. Chronic pain makes it hard to concentrate on the conversation you’re having. And, to be honest, just the general lack of understanding the public has for my (and many others’) invisible illness is unsettling.

Basically, I’m too dang awkward to be in public. Just this morning at church a woman a couple pews in front of me turned around to shake my hand. She was far enough in front of me that she had to lean over the pew between us and still couldn’t reach me. I was sitting while everyone else was standing, because my heart was doing the cha-cha in my chest. In an effort to act like I had decent social skills, I stood up to lean toward her- then stumbled and grabbed the edge of the pew for balance. Then I burst out with a barely intelligible line- “I’m sorry. I don’t stand good.” WHAT?!? Of all the possible things I could have said, why did I say that? Seriously, there’s never an excuse for bad grammar. I should be kept in a cage.

However, on Facebook or Instagram, I’m a completely functional adult. Given the time to think about what I’m saying before I say it, I make sense, and I’m typically grammatically correct. (Full disclosure- I still rely on autocorrect for spelling.) With iPhone edits and social media filters, I’m way more cute and graceful. I need social media to be a normal person. I realize that you’re probably thinking, “You don’t have to be perfect. You want to make friends based on who you are- not a contrived online profile.” I agree with you. However, when illness turns your body into something you don’t even recognize anymore, I think it’s fair to find your confidence for entering the public realm wherever you can find it- even if it’s in the unrealistic world of social media. It’s helped me find who I am again, so I thought I’d share it’s virtues with you.

  1. I’ve made friends. It’s true. When I have exciting news, one of the first places I want to share my news is one of my chronic illness support groups. You see, at one point I had work friends, but the disabled life doesn’t exactly afford many of those. I met people for lunch and coffee, but that’s a little harder to do now. There are weeks that go by, and I don’t speak to any humans in person other than Joe and the lady who gives my allergy shots. However, my online friends are always around, and if they’re not they will be eventually. I’ve had the opportunity to meet people who live a life very similar to mine. I can share victories that don’t seem like victories to my healthier friends. My chronic illness friends understand when I post, “Guess who took a shower, fixed their hair, went to lunch, and unloaded the dishwasher today? This girl!” Normal people would probably not realize this is a huge achievement. My chronic illness friends on social media understand that this is a big day!
  2. I’ve found a way to be a part of something that matters.  As my health has changed, I’ve been less capable of doing a lot of the things I used to do. I can’t volunteer to tutor students or teach Sunday school. My body isn’t very reliable. For a while, I felt like I no longer had a purpose or a way to contribute to the good in the world. However, I learned that the social media world is filled with lonely and isolated people- like me. I can’t be there physically, but I can listen. I can offer prayers and hope and encouragement. Online support groups have been a fantastic outlet and a great way to try helping others rather than focusing on my own problems.
  3. Social media has an off switch (and it’s available 24/7 too!). If I have a migraine or a particularly symptomatic day, I have the option of not looking at social media. Instead of being online when I feel sick and grumpy, I can make the choice to stay away. Of course, you can make that same decision in real life, but it’s more difficult. Real life people involve commitments and explanations. Online interaction happens when it happens. There’s always someone there when you’re ready.

Is social media the perfect answer to all social interaction? Of course, not. It’s important to make friends who can actually be there physically when you need someone. However, if you can’t handle all that yet, social media is an awesome place to start. I’m unapologetically in love with Facebook and Instagram. (Twitter is just not my jam.) Does that mean that I’m one of those people that’s tied to their phone screen a lot of the time? Yes, but it’s only taking away from my napping life or doctor’s office waiting time. I’m okay with that. This life is difficult enough, and if an online support group, online friends, or anything else makes life easier for you- I say do it. Social media can be your bestie too. She’s big enough for all of us, and I promise not to be jealous.

 

Peace, love, and health, friends.

Taking a Chronic Illness to the Gym- the loftiest of endeavors

I hadn’t been to the gym in a while until today. A few weeks ago my body went all “Let’s throw a fit and make Tiffany black out and have chest pain,” so it slowed down my work out flow to say the least. Today I made it back. I’m doing a very amended work out (one hour on the recumbent bike with no resistance- yeah, I know. I’m a beast.), but I’m trying. I figure as long as I’m still trying, Joe isn’t married to a potato, and that’s a positive thing. (I think- I mean the guy really likes potatoes). Since it was my first day back, I decided to record my thoughts- not because they were especially brilliant, but because I knew my crazy, chronic family could relate.

Sitting in the car- I’m not going in. Everyone looks skinny and healthy. Holy moly, that girl is lifting some serious weight. (I am too, but only when I get myself out of the car . . .) Is the whole stinkin town training for a marathon I know nothing about? Do I have any chips in my car? That seems like a better decision at this point.

Walking in the gym- Don’t let the man who works here notice when I scan my check-in card that I haven’t been here in close to a month. Dang it. He totally knows. He said, “It’s nice to see you.” What he’s really saying is, “It’s nice how you drug your lazy self back in here.” (Actually, no. He’s so nice that he would never say such a thing, but the guilt is real.)

Beginning the work out- Where do I start? What is everyone else doing? Oh, yeah, I can’t do that. Abs. I can work on abs. I think somewhere along the way a doctor told me that working on core stability would help my symptoms- or maybe I heard that on an infomercial. Sigh. I have no clue what I’m doing. The ab machine looks least likely to dislocate something, so I’ll do that.

The actual work out- Ouch. Ouch. Should working abs make your lower back feel like it’s going to split open? Is that normal? It’s probably normal. No one else is crying. I’m not going to cry either. Is that a tear? Nope! Just sweat! #killingit A man just asked me if he could work through. What does that even mean? Is he asking if he can work through his problems? I certainly hope he can. Should I offer to pray for him? This gym thing totally confuses me.

I’m moving on to the recumbent bike. It’s totally not made for the under 5 foot crowd, but if I pedal with my tip toes it’ll work. Holy cow. Is that girl still lifting weight? There’s no way she weighs as much as the weight she’s lifting. I must find out her secret. Oh wait, her secret is probably joints that don’t dislocate from simple tasks. Maybe I’ll ask her about that. I won’t. That would break my cardinal rule of gym attendance- don’t speak or make eye contact. They’ll never realize what a hot mess I am if I just don’t speak.

How long have I been on this bike? I’m only pedaling an hour. Darn it. It’s been 6 minutes. Why doesn’t time go by this slowly when I’m drinking coffee and binge watching One Tree Hill? Oh yeah! I can watch OTH while I pedal. No, I can’t. Someone is sitting next to me talking loudly. He’s talking about how nice it would be to be 30 again. Maybe so, dude, but 31 is a struggle right now.

The end! The beautiful end! I made it! I survived an entire hour, and I only stopped once to move a kneecap back into place. (Tricky little booger) I didn’t black out, double over in chest pain, or have any dislocations that I couldn’t handle on my own. YES!!

It can’t be a coincidence that my gym is located next to a Sonic. Time for a milk shake!

Peace, love, and health, friends.

Back off, Bullies.

There was a girl in junior high who knew every other student’s weakness. She knew which kid would be hurt by being called fat or ugly or dirty or (in my case) “frog eyes.” (It’s true. I have huge eyes. I’m over it now. Besides, I like to think they give me an Amanda Seyfried vibe . . . Yeah, okay- maybe not.) She would use this mental list of everyone’s weaknesses as ammunition to wound most effectively. While I commend her excellent memorization skills, I realize now this girl was just a bully. At the time, I thought she just happened to speak the truth that was the most painful, but I realize now that she was intentionally taking aim with the most painful arrows- because that’s what bullies do.

Now, I’ll give this girl a break, because she may have grown up to be a perfectly lovely individual. I don’t really know. I only know that I would never want to be judged based on my 13 year old actions. What I learned from her, though, is that there are people that will wound without any regard for you. Even in the non- junior high world, bullies exist.

The real question is why I’m choosing to write about them now. I’m 31 years old; I should be over crying in the girls’ bathroom about being called “Froggy.” In many ways, I am over it. However, the more time I spend trying to support and advocate for the chronic illness community, the more I realize that we are easy targets for bullies. I keep seeing my friends- my chronic illness family- used and abused, and it makes me angry. So, I’m speaking up- for all of us. Back off, bullies. We’re sick, but we’re not victims. Every type of bullying I mention isn’t necessarily a type I have personally experienced. It is, however, a growing trend I see among my chronic illness friends, and today, I’m asking that you lower your metaphorical weapons.

Adult bullies aren’t as easy to understand and categorize as the thirteen year old “mean girls.” Some grown up bullies think they’re helping or just showing “tough love.” I get that. I’m sure there are times that I have had the best of intentions and just gotten everything very wrong. That’s why today, I’m calling out the grown up “mean girls (and their gender/ age equivalent)” that may have no clue what they’re really doing.

The social media merchant. There are so many online businesses right now, and I applaud anyone who is making money by selling a product they love. That’s awesome. Seriously, you rock, and I admire your effort. Having said that . . . stop exploiting my chronic illness. Do not tell me that your product will cure my genetic illness (that causes my very DNA to be flawed) just because it cleared up cousin Suzie’s eczema. All the InstaGram before and after pictures in the world do nothing for my community. Let me be clear- if you tell me about a great product that you sell, I am capable of understanding that it’s a business. I’ll listen to your sales pitch and thank you for sharing. However, if you are a perfect stranger and approach me just because you heard that I am chronically ill (and this happens way too much) to tell me that if I wanted to feel better I should try your product . . . then NO!

How is that bullying? Let’s think about the situation. A person who is peddling whichever “snake oil” happens to be popular is telling me that I am choosing my illness because I won’t buy their product. You are telling me that buying your product is “an investment in health,” but you fail to see that I spend every day investing every ounce of my mental, physical, and fiscal resources in my health. I’ve seen kind and well-meaning people post on social media that “ . . . if you’re tired of spending money on doctors, make an investment in [such and such product].” Really?!? Your shake, pill, or oil is going to stop my need to see a qualified medical professional? No, it’s not. Think about what you’re saying. I have my doubts that any magic concoction is going to trump the doctors and scholars at Vanderbilt University or Cleveland Clinic. Are you truly trying to tell me that I have wasted my money and time going to these places rather than using your social media cure?

The Pharisee. Let’s be clear; I am a person of faith. I was raised in church, and I am truly grateful for the values of love and kindness I was taught there. I am not calling out those with religious convictions. I have been so blessed with thoughtful people who have prayed for me when my health was in a difficult place. But then, there are the Pharisees. The Pharisees throughout Christian scripture were people who chose to focus on laws- rules of right and wrong- rather than the values of love and kindness Christ came to teach. They were far more concerned with the letter of the law rather than the spirit behind the law. The Pharisees saw every affliction as repayment for wrongdoing- rather than just an unfortunate situation. Sadly, these people still exist today. I recently read a post from a fellow sufferer of chronic illness where she was told that she simply chooses to be ill. A minister told this poor soul that if she had enough faith, if she prayed enough, if she followed Scripture closely enough and did enough good, she would have already been healed.

Yeah, sorry, Mr. (or Mrs.) 21st century Pharisee, but that’s not how life works. My body is human, and it is afflicted with some very un- heavenly illnesses. I refuse to believe that I caused this or that following your list of rules would cure me. I refuse to believe that I was pre-destined to this suffering. So, if you’re telling me that I made this happen- you’re being a spiritual bully. I did not choose to have flawed DNA. I do, however, choose to live every day loving others and being kind. And, if you are walking around telling others that they chose their illness, their own personal, physical hell, you haven’t made that same decision. You’re being a spiritual bully.

My husband (and I only share this because he has given me permission to – and insisted that I- do so) suffers from depression and is under medical treatment- which has been wonderfully successful to this point. In the wake of Robin Williams’ death, he was met with his own personal host of Pharisees. Pastors and other people of conviction took to their pulpits and social media to blame Robin Williams’ death on his lack of faith. I’m not sure that these speakers understood how much their words were undermining the efforts of the medical professionals who were treating some in their congregation for similar illnesses. The truth, however, is that Mr. Williams was ill. He struggled with depression and mental illness. I don’t know Robin Williams’ personal beliefs- they’re his and not my place to pry. I do know, however, that he was sad and ill. I know that others with mental illness need to hear kindness and compassion for his situation- not blaming and hatefulness. My heart broke as post after post and uninformed sermon after sermon we were forced to hear mental illness blamed on weakness, lack of faith, and a poor relationship with our Creator. In fact, the bullies were waxing eloquently on a situation they didn’t understand. Bullies do that. Pharisees do that. Sorry, Pharisees, but I would very much like it if you would leave me and my husband (and the lepers) alone.

The consort. Let’s talk relationships. My husband is wonderful; he really is. However, what I keep seeing repeatedly among my chronic illness friends is that relationships are especially difficult in the chronic illness world. Night after night I message with friends who are facing verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse, because their illness is making them not meet the aggrandized standards of their significant other. I know that guilt. There was a time that I truly prayed that my husband would leave me, because I knew he deserved better than this sick, shell of a wife. My remorse for the person I was becoming was all-consuming at times.

Having said all that, not once in all this grief have I deserved abuse. Trust me- I was abusing myself plenty; I certainly didn’t need more guilt. My husband was fantastic. He knows I’m a hot or that sometimes I go a couple days without washing my hair (much like the college students he teaches), but he has never once made me feel like less of a person. I have other friends who have not had that luxury. Please, spouses, partners, and significant others, listen to me when I say- back off! If your significant other is ill (mentally or physically), love them for who they are- every flawed inch of them. Due to their roles as a disabled/ chronically ill adult, if the house isn’t clean; heck, if the spouse isn’t clean, give him/her a break. They’re doing their best. If you look at the person you profess to love and see them as less of a person because of their illness, you’re bullying them. If you refuse to believe their illness is real- you’re a bully. You have chosen to face life with this person. There is a part of them you chose to love completely. You are supposed to be their cheerleader. You are supposed to be their advocate. If you are anything less, you are being a bully.

For those of you who are in such a relationship, I am sorry. I am truly sorry, and I sincerely hope and pray you eventually receive the understanding and deliverance you deserve. This treatment is toxic to your illness.

I fear in writing all this that you think I’m a jerk. The last thing I want is for you to think that I sit around waiting to call others bullies. (I’m fairly confident that would actually make me a bully, and that’s certainly not my intention- and that would defeat my entire purpose.) I simply want to make everyone think. I want to make others realize that it is not okay to blame someone’s illness or circumstance on that person. Even if you can’t see something, that doesn’t make it a figment of someone’s imagination. Believe me. Believe that I didn’t choose this life. Believe that I wanted more than this for my life, but I understand that this is the genetic hand I’ve been dealt. No one gets to bully me for something that I couldn’t escape.

You, my sweet sufferer of chronic illness, no one gets to victimize you either. We’re here. We’ve got each others’ backs, and, today, we’re asking that the bullies lay aside their weapons. So, bullies, back off. We mean it. We aren’t your victims, and we will retaliate- in our own crazy, chronic way. And, seriously, who even knows what that means?

Peace, love, and health, friends.

 

 

Wheelchair Etiquette- The Continued Saga (and Trevails) of Tiffany and Snooki

Every time I spend a couple days on wheels (AKA in my wheelchair, Snooki) I realize that the world is sadly lacking in basic wheelchair etiquette. Now, I’m not going to attempt to answer questions like, “Do I hold the door for someone in a wheelchair?” or “If they seem to be struggling, should I offer to help?” The truth is- I have no idea. We are as varied and different as the same number of able-bodied people, so how could I possibly know? (But, please, if you see me struggling with a door whether in a wheelchair or not, please help! I’m probably deciding if entering/ exiting is really worth dislocating my shoulder.) However, there are apparently a few things that need cleared up to make my (and others’) rolling days a little simpler and possibly less frustrating. Below you will find a few helpful hints about what not to do upon seeing someone in a wheelchair.

Hint #1- Do not touch the wheelchair user.

Just don’t do it. Unless you are shaking hands, giving a high five, or fist bumping . . . there’s just no reason to touch a person you do not know. Let’s think of it this way- You walk into a room. Everyone else is taller than you (Fun wheelchair fact- you’re stuck at butt height to all adults when you’re in a wheelchair. Lovely, just lovely.). Now everyone starts patting your head, bumping into your legs, and tickling your tummy (Yes, that has actually happened to me.). My guess is you would start feeling a little claustrophobic and ultimately disdained. It’s hard to feel as though you’re on equal footing with the rest of the adults of the world, when the other adults of the world treat you like a particularly ugly puppy.

Hint #2- Do not talk in funny voices to the wheelchair user.

Again, there are exceptions. For example, my voice is just funny, in general. (Oddly reminiscent of Velma from “Scooby Doo” . . .) That would not keep me from speaking to a person in a wheelchair, obviously. If a normal adult conversation necessitates using a funny voice, by all means, please do. We wheelchair riders (much like “normal” walking folk- *gasp*) enjoy a silly story. What I am talking about is using a voice that isn’t meant for adults with an adult simply because he or she is in a wheelchair. Case in point, while rolling into a football stadium with my husband, a security guard spoke to me in a (not at all impressive) Donald Duck voice. It some sort of- “Quackety-quack. I bet you’re not *quack-quack* sneaking anything in! Quack!” Now friends, tell me how that is EVER appropriate. I mean, it’s strange enough that he would assume that because I’m in a wheelchair I wouldn’t possibly think to sneak in contraband. (For the record, I was NOT sneaking in contraband though.) It’s even more strange that he used a duck voice with an adult. Again, it’s hard to feel like you’re not inferior to the walking world when the walking world is using baby talk to speak with you.

Hint #3- Do not attempt to diagnose the wheelchair user.

This is a tough one. To be entirely honest, before I became a part time Snooki user, I probably assumed that people in wheelchairs could not walk at all. I, on the contrary, go for walks in my neighborhood, walk to get my groceries, walk inside my house, but use a wheelchair for long distances or particularly unfortunate days health wise. I realize this is confusing, but I also realize this most certainly does not mean I am faking my need for the Snooks. Not long ago while using the wheelchair, I stood up to walk into the bathroom (because opening a bathroom door while trying propel myself through it will most certainly end in a dislocated shoulder). A young man 10-15 feet away said, “Oh my God! She can walk! She was just using a wheelchair, but she can actually walk.” This doesn’t make me angry; it’s not like he insisted I crawl to the bathroom. It’s just awkward. Yes, I can walk; the walk to the bathroom is perfectly manageable for me. It isn’t manageable for all people using a wheelchair. Much like some people who can walk long distances are capable of running a 5K and other aren’t. What frustrates me, though, is that people who are not using a wheelchair somehow feel qualified to comment on who should and should not use a wheelchair- as though being able to walk qualifies them for such assumptions. What if people in wheelchairs started calling out everyone with a limp or who stumbles? “Hey, hey you? You stumbled. You aren’t good at walking. I’m in a wheelchair, so I know this. You should be in a wheelchair too!” See what I mean? Being in a wheelchair does not make me qualified to diagnose a walker as incapable of walking, and being a walker does not make someone capable of diagnosing a wheelchair user as not needing the wheelchair.

Hint #4- Teach your children that people in wheelchairs are, um, people (who happen to use wheelchairs).

One of the most awkward moments I face in a wheelchair is when children are involved. You see, I don’t mind at all when a child says, “What’s wrong with you?” or “Why are you using a wheelchair?” I’m not going to give them a long, graphic response. I’m going to say, “Sometimes I can’t walk very far, and my wheelchair helps me to be able to go the places I can’t walk to. I named it ‘Snooki’.” That’s it. I get to encourage a child’s curiosity, and a child learns that someone who looks different isn’t something to fear. Everyone wins. But . . . when a child says, “What’s wrong with you?” and a parent/ guardian angrily shoos him/her away out of embarrassment, no one wins. You see, I’m left feeling like some sort of animal that the parent was afraid of provoking, and the child has learned that people who look different are something that makes parents uncomfortable- so they become uncomfortable too. Your child is more than welcome to ask nosey questions. If I don’t want to answer or think the answer is too much for them, I’ll ask you for help explaining. But I never, ever want a child to be afraid of me, because I’m different. It’s okay. Please let them be nosey; let them pry. It’s perfectly, perfectly fine.

This brings us to the final and most important point.

Hint #5- Look at the PERSON in the wheelchair- not the wheelchair.

Everyone one of us has something that makes us different. Even when I’m walking, I’m limping and stumbling along with dislocating hips and shifting kneecaps. There is always something that makes me self-conscious, and I think that makes me very, very human. See, that’s the thing. I sometimes feel a little like I’m step behind the rest of the adult world, because I’m using a wheelchair. But, if we could all sit down and talk, we would probably realize that we all have something that makes us feel that way. All I’m asking is to be treated like any other fellow human. When you’re meeting a fellow human in a wheelchair, don’t make assumptions about them. Talk to them just like anyone else, because we are as varied and unique as all the other people you will meet.

Finally, it took me a while to write the post- partially because Joe is researching for a new book about the subjugation of women throughout history, and he kept reading crazy and disturbing things aloud, but also because I was a little afraid. You see, I would rather you fail to follow ANY of my hints than for you to avoid me for fear of offending me. I’m guessing that most of my friends on wheels feel the same way. I’m not easily offended; I’m not even particularly sensitive about the wheelchair. If you say something completely offensive, I’m more likely to ask you to clarify or just to give you the benefit of the doubt than I am to walk away and meltdown. At absolute worst, I might make a joke. Recently, Joe was pushing me in Snooki, and we were attracting a lot of stares. Joe’s response was to yell, “Hodor! Hodor!” as he pushed me. (Game of Thrones fans, you’ll get the reference.) I will never try to make you feel bad or less than anyone else. I promise. All I’m asking is that all of us try to see each other as fellow humans- crazy, chronic illness humans or not.
Peace, love, and health friends.