Feb 1, 2020
Disabilities don't have to be diminishing, when it comes to grandparenting. One of Emily's guests grew up with with two deaf grandparents, and and the other is a grandmother who is "confined" (not!) to a scooter. Emily's essay is about her own experience with chronic pain and the lessons it taught her.
THE STRETCH IT TAKES: DISABLING PAIN (Emily's essay)
My husband’s grandmother, Granny Lou, had a very obvious case of arthritis. Her fingers looked almost mangled, bent at the first and second knuckles. Through it all, I hardly ever heard her complain. She would make full out meals for the family. And despite the pain that I can only imagine, she painted china for a hobby. As she aged, we could tell that the arthritis was getting worse. Her carefully crafted paintings of daisies and roses were telling the tale. The fine lines were a little thicker, the petals on the roses not so well-defined. Her creations were fired in a kiln for posterity, and now every time I look at a cup or saucer that she painted and I see the aberrations, I realize how hard the pain must have been for her to endure.
If you haven’t gotten to the point where you’ve experienced chronic pain of some sort, consider yourself lucky. About 6 months ago, I was struck with some sort of virus that had me literally crawling up the stairs. We didn’t know if it was Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lyme Disease, Fibromyalgia or Lupus. All I knew was that I was in a great deal of pain and it wouldn’t subside. I started to understand how people can get addicted to painkillers...how they snap at others, especially the ones closest to them. Every time I was with the grandchildren, it was all I could do to ignore the pain that shot through my limbs. And I started to recognize that chronic pain is life altering. And it’s not for the faint of heart.
I love every minute I spend with our grandchildren, and so to have every visit laced with pain was torture for me. So what do we do with that?
Well...here’s what I
learned from my own experience. First, you make sure you’re not
alone in the pain. People need to know what’s happening to you and
to pretend it isn’t, doesn’t really help anyone. When I kept having
to ask for help, I would often say,
I can’t open the cereal box or I can’t cut up this celery.” My husband started coaching me to approach my disability by stating a request, instead of repeating negative statements like “I can’t” So Instead I would say: Can you help me open this box? Or would you mind cutting up this celery for me? He encouraged me to stay positive and open to help. What you say and think matters. Stay vulnerable and positive as much as possible.
Secondly, you do what you need to, to cope. If that means taking many breaks, not participating in some things in order to sleep or rest, then you need to do that. Know your boundaries. Grandchildren understand limitations. And if you have restrictions, let them know… but also, reassure them that you love them and you will do all you can to make sure they know that. If you can’t bend down on the floor, then have them join you on the couch. If you can’t sit in a chair comfortably, then invite them to lie down on the bed with you while you close your eyes and tell them a story.
Now, this last thing is hard because it takes work and sometimes money. You need to get help from wherever you can. If it means ordering a supplement on line that seems like it might work, try it! If it means seeking unconventional means to help with the pain, go for it. If it requires diet and exercise that you’re not keen on, make the sacrifices. You are worth it, and your relationships are too. Being proactive will ensure that you don’t stay in victim mode. It’s important to take charge of your own health. Be your own advocate.
The reality for some is that it sometimes costs a lot of money to battle a chronic disease. And sometimes there is no coming back from it. I was fortunate that whatever I had only lasted 4 months, but during those months, I was miserable. When it was over, I was more grateful than ever for days when I can sleep and wake up with no pain. And it made me appreciate the plight of others and become more empathetic to those around me. My hope is that you are able to find help from good people who care and are invested in your health. And that you’ll be able to find the energy to both get the help, and to help yourself.
If you are battling chronic pain, and want to share your story, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and leave a voicemail at 317-572-7876. Aging is hard. But it doesn’t have to be the end of the relationships you value most.
© 2019 Emily Morgan