Something has been really bugging me for the past few days, and it took me awhile to be able to put it into words here.. This time it’s not so much about what I deal with, but more about how others deal with me. Or rather, us, those who are sick in their youth.
When we were little, we were taught to always respect our elders. Its like a mantra that is ingrained in our brains since infancy. I couldn’t tell you when I first heard it, but its been repeated to me throughout my entire life. And I get it, being respectful of your elders makes sense. But how did that start? Why was it only ‘be respectful of your elders’ and not taught just to be respectful of everyone? Because now I fear, that in teaching everyone this ideal, we’ve given some a false sense of superiority. Like bad behavior is okay if its from the elderly because somehow they’ve earned it?
Also, what is the rule for the elderly then? If all us younger folk have to be respectful and gracious to those older than us, what do they have to do towards us? Anything? No? Here lies the problem. It may not seem like a problem for most, but for those of us who are under the age of 60, and are living with chronic illness, it is one. Most of the elderly that I have been in contact with since becoming ill have absolutely no regard or respect for the fact that I am sick. They either don’t believe it, or flat out ignore it. Because somehow, I couldn’t possibly be ill or disabled if I don’t carry a senior citizens card.
My first example of this is from a couple of weeks back when a friend and I were outside a local mall. We were sitting on a bench eating ice cream cones in the sun, and watched as an older couple in their 50’s were pushing a young woman in a wheel chair who looked to be in her mid-30’s. It wasn’t clear what the young woman’s disability was, but her parents (I’d assume) were helping her sit at a table of an outside cafe adjacent to our bench. The older couple looked tired, but were diligently helping their daughter whom clearly couldn’t walk. I don’t know what it was about this scene that made me smile. Maybe just a nice reminder of support from loved ones, for those of all ages with disabilities. The smile faded however when an much older woman walked past them, and decided to speak her mind on how she saw the situation. I didn’t hear everything, but I did hear the older woman tell the young woman in the wheelchair that she should be helping her parent out instead of the other way around.
I was outraged. Especially, since this was not the first time I’d seen these behaviors. In the almost five years since I was diagnosed, I have been confronted with this quite a few times. And by this, I mean older people than I mouthing off at me or other young disabled people, about how we can’t be sick/disabled and shouldn’t rely on our elders.
I’m sorry, I didn’t realize there was a rule about not being sick before having wrinkles…
Another example of this happened to me just the other day while at the bus stop outside my local grocer. As I was waiting for the bus, I watched two elderly women in their late 60’s-early 70’s push their shopping carts past the sign that forbids carts from leaving the premises. They crossed the street, went down a block, and stopped at my bus stop where they abandoned the carts outside the front door of a local clothing store. A salesperson came out and while he seemed visibly annoyed, said nothing, and proceeded to push the carts back to their home. The women stood next to me with their grocery bags, and as the bus came into view I signaled the driver to stop. Now, I was taught to respect my elders, and I always let them get on the bus first. So, as the bus stopped and opened its doors I stepped back politely. This was not necessary however, as one of the women physically pushed me back with her arm, causing me to stumble, and said “respect your elders”.
ARE YOU F*CKING KIDDING ME?
How is pushing someone you don’t even know, whom politely stepped aside for you, and then barking at them to be respectful, a gesture to be respected?? The bus driver asked if I was alright, and after picking up my dropped grocery bags, I boarded the bus and sat in the rear, as far from the rude lady as possible. They then spent the next five minutes I was on the bus, talking about how rude young people are and how they need to learn respect. This is where I draw the line.
No, I did not say something to the rude lady. I did, however go home and have a long think about how I would approach this blog.
Here’s the thing… Respect goes both ways. It shouldn’t be something we teach kids to follow just based on age. Because somewhere down the line, this ideal got warped, and not just in the eyes of youth, but in elders as well. Of course, I know these were isolated incidences. And not every single person over the age of 60 is rude to anyone younger. I have a lot of family and friends in my life whom have always been respectful of me, despite my age or disability.
But at what point did people of a certain age start thinking they were superior just for reaching that age? And at what point did the idea that a young person who is disabled, have less rights than someone who is elderly? Even back when I lived in Hawaii, and rode the bus there, I was often shamed by the elderly for using the disabled section on the bus. In their eyes I was too young to be truly sick or disabled. Like my illness didn’t matter because I hadn’t lived long enough.
Those of us whom are young and battling chronic illnesses should have the same rights as anyone else, age be damned. We shouldn’t be shamed by others for being sick, because trust us when we say, we don’t want to be. We don’t want to be using canes or wheelchairs, it embarrasses us that we have to use disabled placards on our cars, and park in special parking to get closer to an entrance. We didn’t sign up for this, and we had no idea it was coming, unlike old age. We don’t ask people to respect us, nor do we make a big deal about it in public. And we don’t teach kids to respect the ill or disabled, but we should.
Instead of teaching children to respect their elders, why not teach them to respect everyone?
And to the elderly who think I’m too young to be sick and disabled…I agree. I am too young, but that doesn’t mean I’m not. So please respect that.
I know that I’ve said on many an occasion that I don’t subscribe to the Pain Olympics ideal. I will argue before anyone that this disease is not my own, and that not only do I share it with many, but there are so many other diseases out there that are worse than mine. Or if not not worse, than certainly more rapid in onset and/or life expiration. We unfortunately live in a world where diseases are as abundant as spiders, and often far more scary to deal with.
Its not a competition. No one wants to be sick. No one is going to admit they prefer the never ending pain, rather than living a healthy long life. And I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record, and I’ve probably made this point before… But if one more person tells me that someone they know has a relatively low impact disease and that I couldn’t possibly understand what its like to be sick, I WILL SCREAM.
About a week ago, I was talking with a friend and she was upset because her boyfriend is dealing with vertigo as a result of an ongoing ear infection. He had to take time off work at his construction job because of the dizziness and headaches that the infection had caused. I asked her if he’d been in to see a specialist yet, as I knew ear infections can be quite disruptive if not dealt with quickly. My friend went on in length about how stressed out her boyfriend was, and what a toll this whole thing was taking on him. I sympathized, stating I’d had an ear infection before and that they can be quite horrible to deal with, and that I was sorry he was in pain. To which she replied (to my utter shock), “Well, his is way worse, and you couldn’t understand his pain.”
Look, I’m not trying to be an asshole here, or claim that I have the worstest disease of them all. I’m trying to sympathize and just say I understand. Its not a competition on who had the worst ear infection ever! I’m sure his IS quite bad if he was experiencing vertigo so badly that he needed to take a week off work. I understand that must really suck. Losing rent money sucks.
“You couldn’t understand his pain?” Seriously?
I do more things while being in pain than you could possibly imagine. I put my body through things you probably wouldn’t think of doing, because normally you’d just stay in bed and ride out the sickness. My issue is that I can’t ‘ride out the sickness’ because it NEVER ENDS. I will be sick for the rest of my life. I will be in pain for the rest of my life. And because of my diseases, my life will almost certainly be shorter than yours.
I have woken up on a Monday morning and known without a doubt that I wouldn’t be able to leave my apartment for at least three days. I’ve woken up on an infusion day in so much unbearable pain, and known that no matter what, I would have to get up and get to the hospital for my treatment. I could be screaming on the inside at every step down the driveway, but I’d force myself, because I have to. I won’t go as far as to be petty and say I’d love to trade a one week ear infection for my life, but don’t think for a moment that I can’t understand pain.
Pain isn’t just a physical feeling anymore. Sure, I feel the pain everyday. But its so commonplace now, that it just is. I don’t know what a pain free day feels like. I haven’t had one in almost 5 years. Everyday isn’t a “pain day”. To me, its just a day. Because the pain never leaves. The fatigue never leaves. The struggle of accepting what my life is now never leaves. The fact that my life will most likely be cut short never leaves. Pain isn’t a physical feeling. It just is.
Being sick isn’t a competition. But don’t you dare belittle what I go through, or I dare you to go through it yourself.
I know time and time again I have advocated for the fact that being sick is not a competition or a race. We are not in the Pain Olympics, and no one gets a medal for being sicker than someone else. But I have to stomp my foot today and cry out for all my sisters with Rheumatoid Disease and declare “Our colds are not like your colds!”
Its cold season for sure. I can’t get on a bus or be in a doctors waiting room without hearing a sniffle or a muffled cough. A lot of people are sick, and its no ones fault except for maybe the weather and this damn rain that keeps everything damp and chilled. So, we all walk around with crumpled tissues in our pockets, and and extra sweater in our bags, and we look like crap. All of us. No one looks awesome when they have a cold. And everyone, men and women alike, has a little pity party for themselves about how shitty they feel.
Here’s the thing though, having a cold is shitty enough when you’re a regular healthy human. You get a cough, or the sniffles, and a sore throat, and your head becomes a bit fuzzy. Sometimes you gotta stay home from work for a couple days because you feel so lethargic and icky. Eventually after a week or so, your symptoms start to fade, you pull through, and its only a matter of time before you’re having a beer with friends around the corner again.
Let me paint another picture for you though… The picture of what its like to get sick when your entire life is already about being sick. When the cold symptoms start you’re praying that you don’t have the sniffles because of a cold, but maybe because you just breathed in dust from the curtains that you’ll never have the energy to clean. The sore throat starts and you force feed yourself a gallon of OJ because you know you can’t get a cold. But you know, you always know. Because no one knows their body more than someone who lives with a chronic illness.
Colds for us can last as long as three months if we aren’t strong enough to fight it. They can turn into Pneumonia, Bronchitis, Strep, and worse. A week can pass in bed where the only thing we can do is shuffle to the bathroom to pee, and then back into bed so we don’t get chills. Headaches turn to migraines. Those of us with chronic pain can sometimes be blessed by our diseases taking a back seat to let the cold do its worse. But other times we are stricken with flares, whilst also dealing with sore throats, raw noses from blowing too hard, and brain fog. A common two week cold for an average Joe turns into a two month long nightmare. And one of the worst parts is that we often aren’t allowed to get our regular treatments for our chronic diseases if we are fighting a cold or infection. Chemo and biologics have to be put on hold until the current illness clears our system. But they can’t if our flare ups contribute to them. So we get stuck in what seems like a never ending cycle of illness. For days, weeks, months…
So, next time you feel like responding to your friend that suffers from chronic illness that their cold can’t be as bad as that one you had last week…maybe take a moment to think about the differences between your every day life and theirs. Because from where I’m standing, I’d much rather a week long cold than the four weeks and counting cold I’m currently enduring.
I recently had coffee with an old friend, and we talked a lot about past relationships. So much so, that I’ve been dwelling on the memories of my relationships for days now. Truthfully, I’m sneaking up on two weeks here. Two weeks of late night insomnia, where my mind instead of doing the nice thing and allowing me to sleep, decides to remind me of every single person I’ve ever dated. Truth be told, it’s a long list, and sleep doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.
When I was younger, you could have called me “boy crazy”. I had a lot of crushes. Although, I was also shy, not having my first kiss until I was fourteen years old. An embarrassing affair at a friends birthday party, with all of my comrades watching hungrily to see if I’d mess it up. I did. Turned my head the wrong way, smashed noses.
In time I got over the shyness, and in turn learned how to kiss, I suppose. With my seventeenth year came graduation from high school, my first real job, and college. I don’t quite know how or when it happened, but that year I blossomed. No longer did I feel like an ugly duckling, or shy as a mouse. I grew more confident of myself, and finally started to understand who I was as a person. That’s when I started to really date.
As the World Wide Web grew more and more popular, and I was gifted a computer from my father, I found myself drawn to chat rooms where I could flirt more easily, having a mask of anonymity to hide behind.
By the time I went to university in New Zealand, I’d found my stride in the dating world. My best friend Carmel and I used to constantly joke that this year or next year would be the year we would find boyfriends. And while we always gave it a laugh, and crushed on numerous, I don’t think we were ever fearful of not finding a life companion. It was only a matter of time.
Fast forward fourteen years, and here I am at thirty five, still single. Not that I haven’t dated. I’ve held two long term relationships in that time, as well as dated countless others. Do not misunderstand me, it’s not that I fear commitment. It’s as they say, I just haven’t found “the one”.
For the last two years I could have sworn it had to do with my illness. I mean I did have all my hormones turned off due to long term pain management medications. Over a year of no libido is a long time. But now that I’m off them, and my hormones and libido are back in check, I can’t really use that as an excuse. Perhaps it was my insecurities all along that kept me alone. Confidence shows, so of course insecurities and doubt can show as well. Throw in a good dose of self loathing due to weight gain, and you don’t really paint a pretty picture.
So here I was, in a coffee shop, listening to my old friend talk about how they couldn’t find anyone to date who was worth it. And it catapulted my mind into a wormhole of every relationship, crush, sexual encounter, and glance, I ever had with another. Suddenly I was up at night wondering where I had gone wrong, if I should have given one a chance, or if I had wasted time with another. Your mind sucks that way. Anytime you want to sleep, it’s always there to count on with sneaky little unspoken comments like “they could have been the one” or “should have given that guy a chance” or “too late now”.
I hate my mind at 3am.
But despite my mind attempting to screw my sleep pattern, I did learn something of all this. My disease was never keeping me back. It was me. And all those other relationships and crushes and scenarios, well they didn’t work out because they weren’t meant to. My heart was still on reserve for the one who was worth it.
We can’t judge our relationship statuses on the timing of others. My old friends dating life might not be working because he’s yet to meet his penguin (yes, I am using a Never Been Kissed reference, deal with it). Carmel found her soul mate eight years ago, and married him last year. It doesn’t mean that I will never find love. It just means that it’s not my time. Both of my sisters have married already, one being ten years younger than I. Doesn’t mean I won’t. And it doesn’t mean I will. But I’ve got to stop thinking negatively about dating.
People say you’ll meet someone when you’re ready. I don’t think I was ready before. But that was then, and this is now.
I wish you would see the real me, the me that no one sees.
I wish you could see through the denial of what I have in your mind.
I wish you would see the me that struggles every day.
I wish you would see how hard it is for me to maintain this vision of wellness that you expect me to project.
I wish you could see how hard it is for me to live with this pain day in and day out.
I wish you could see your own fear that you push onto me when you tell me to get over it or just push through, like it’s just a bad day and not the disease that is killing me.
I wish you would believe me when I tell you the truth of what is happening to me, and what my doctors are telling me.
I wish you could see that I need you more than just in name, in title. That I need you to actually be a parent, a supporter, a friend.
I wish you would stop being passive aggressive when I tell you I don’t feel well, and not brush it off like I’m being lazy or dramatic or not willing to give my all.
I wish you would help me financially as much as you help yourself.
I wish just once you would ask me if I need help, if there’s anything you could do for me.
I wish you would see how scared I am.
I wish you would see how frail I am.
I wish you could see that deep down inside I’m just a girl who never asked for this, never wanted this.
I wish you would accept me for who I am, all of me.
I wish you could accept that even though my body has changed I’m still me, and that I didn’t want to look like this. It was out of my control.
I wish you could see past the weight gain, see past the medications, and the sickness, and just love me.
I wish you would love me as much as you love everyone else, and treat me as an equal, not an outcast.
I wish you would stop pretending to the world how great you are, how supportive you are, and show how really cold you are.
I wish you would tell everyone that I asked you for help and that you told me I didn’t earn it.
I wish you would tell everyone the truth, that you have not given me even 10% of the support I really need, even though you are one of the people I need it the most from.
I wish you would love me like everyone thinks you do, how you tell everyone you do. I wish it didn’t feel like a lie.
I wish you knew how hard it was for me to get out of bed today, how painful it was just to grip the sheets and pull back the covers.
I wish you could understand how hard it was to have someone help dress me, how hard it is as a 35 year old woman, to have someone else help me put my underwear on.
I wish you could see how I struggle to do even the simplest things, like pour myself a glass of water, or even lift the glass to my lips.
I wish you could see the real me, the one that is in pain every day and just wants this to end.
I wish you would treat me with the love and respect that I deserve, and give me the support you tell everyone you give, the support you have deluded yourself into thinking you give.
I wish everyone saw the truth of what is happening to me. I wish people truly understood and believed me when I tell them I am dying. I am truly dying. It could be a year, it could be ten. But the truth is I will probably go before almost everyone I know, including my parents.
I wish you would all just understand how hard that is for me to process. How hard I struggle with my mortality. How hard I struggle with everything.
I wish you all knew how little I have in this world. How I am close to bankruptcy, that I have bills piling up, and that I’m about to lose the roof over my head. I wish you could understand how many people I have in my life that could change my circumstances in a minute, keep me from homelessness, truly take care of me, but choose to do nothing. People who lie and tell everyone how supportive they are of me and understand how ill I am but would rather spend money on trips, shopping, eating out, and material things. If only they could look inside themselves and see that if they sacrificed one present to themselves, I could be housed for a year, or for life.
I wish you could understand how little and terrible they make me feel when I ask for even the smallest amount of help. I wish you could understand that they told me I didn’t earn their love or their help, and that they don’t need to take care of me.
I wish you could understand that this is my reality. It has been since before I was sick. That this is what I’ve dealt with for years.
I wish I wasn’t dying. I wish I could be happy. I wish the world I knew wasn’t the world I live in.
I wish a lot of things.