Love for Today

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Tonight the phrase “live for today” has been ringing in my ears. I’m in significant pain. I have rheumatoid arthritis and it has been destroying my joints quickly over the last year and a half. I suspect I have had it longer than the year and a half since I was diagnosed but the symptoms that led to the diagnosis were too much to ignore after I stopped nursing my fourth and last child. It’s been quite a ride since. My rheumatologist thought I had a pretty mild case until last summer when my symptoms became severe. The disease has made it it’s business to deform my hands, destroy my shoulders and knees, and cause me daily pain.

Tonight I am once again in my bed watching a movie, writing, resting and desperately doing anything to keep my mind off of the pain. While my family plays downstairs, I am up here in pain, wishing the disease would go into remission. I know I am not alone. There are many people just like me who are wrestling with disease, desperately wishing the pain would stop. Each day I’m in pain reminds me of the damage the disease is doing because the deformity of my joints doesn’t happen without pain.

Pain is all I think about these days. How much pain will I wake up in today? Will I be able to get my housework done? Will I be able to handle one of my son’s serious seizures? Can I get through the day? There have been numerous days when my little girls played a game on my bed, danced around my room, and seemed more than understanding when their mommy has been unable to get out of bed. Now that summer is here and all four are at home, how will all of us handle one of those inevitable days?

Today a picture did me in. It was a photo a mom snapped and posted on social media of her daughter jumping into the pool. She captioned it something like this, “my daughter is getting braver during her swim lessons”. It broke my heart because none of my children have had swim lessons. Not one of my children from nine years old to two knows how to swim. The excuses for which have amounted to one or all of the following; too many kids for the pain, the added stress of taking a special needs child, and financial stress. My kids miss out on a lot and I know I am to blame. Now that I have rheumatoid arthritis, I’m not sure if my son will ever have the opportunity to hit a home run during summer t-ball or if I will be able to see my daughters in a dance recital. Disease has not only robbed me, but each one of my kids. On the other hand, I get to spend a lot of time with my children. I get to enjoy every last minute of their childhood and I wouldn’t trade that privilege for anything in the world. I know I can’t give them all the opportunities I think they deserve, but my husband and I have tried to give them mommy. I have been here as much as possible since our oldest was born. I had a part time job for five years but quit to take care of our medically complex child three years ago. Mommy may not be able to take them to all the places they want to go, but they know I will always be here for them.

These thoughts brought me to “live for today” and was finished with the thought “because tomorrow is never guaranteed”. Nothing drives this point home quite like chronic illness. I never forget that my disease could be damaging my organs at a speed equal to the damage it has done to my joints or epilepsy could take my little boy as he sleeps at night. It’s hard to take the advice of others who think I should “keep smiling” or say, “hang in there!”. It’s hard because no one can fill in for me and take the non-stop mental or physical pain. One compounds on the other until I finally break. About once a month my husband can expect me to cry through a box of tissues. Every last worry comes spilling out and I blame myself for all these thoughts and more. Maybe it’s then when the reality of our life becomes abundantly clear; so much has changed in very little time.

It wasn’t that long ago when I held my newborn son and he was seemingly healthy. I looked at him and saw a lifetime of memories in his little eyes. I could envision a future filled with all of those things a mom expects. It took a ten second seizure to change all of that. Our little boy had an incurable disease and the future didn’t look as certain. Two years ago I could hold each of my children and not think twice about how I was going to get through the day. Now my children crawl on my lap to be held and they know they have to be careful around their now fragile mother. I wake up wondering how hard it will be to get through the day. Did I really appreciate everything I had before it changed? Do I appreciate what I have now? I hope so but since I know how fast things can change, I try to thank God for today. Today is all I have and each second beyond that is a gift. I’m still struggling with each second but I’m glad I have another.

Disease can change the future we may have anticipated for our son, my physical appearance, and the way we look at life but it can’t take away the love in this family. Disease didn’t anticipate unconditional love. We don’t have to guess if love will prevail in sickness and in health, it already has. There is no doubt if my husband will love me even if I don’t look like the woman he married because I already don’t. Our children will never wonder if something they will do will alter our love because they have witnessed it prevail through it all. I think I should change “live for today” to “love for today”.  Disease can take what it will but it can’t take our love, nothing can take that, and for that, I am truly thankful.

*d*

Extra Baggage

So this was the weekend. The weekend my husband and I would spend a night away from home. It has been six years since we were able to do it last. Six years ago we only had one child. In that span of time we had three more children and life got much more complicated.

It’s the added stress of a son with complex medical issues and my own chronic illness that made a small getaway so important to us. My husband and I arranged this special weekend months ago and we have been talking about it ever since. We have been dreaming about uninterrupted sleep, a schedule free of obligations, and most importantly, much needed time alone. I have been begging for a weekend away for a couple years now. I think the guilt of being away from home and asking someone else to care for the kids, especially one with special circumstances, kept us from following through. It has also been hard to set aside money to fund a weekend away. We were determined this time and we set a little money aside and took family up on their offers to spend the weekend with our kids.

Unfortunately, my RA had decided it too wanted a vacation. It reared it’s ugly head Saturday morning. The pain was so intense that it took me twice as long to do my usual morning preparations. Door knobs and car doors looked more like thorns and sandpaper. During what felt like a grudge match with my make-up and curling iron, it struck me that I may have to cancel our long awaited get away. We weren’t going far, only twenty minutes from home, but when experiencing that much pain, it’s hard to leave the comforts of home.

I decided I wasn’t going to cancel although I was disappointed and upset that I had to be in so much pain on such an anticipated day. I had to understand that I can take a vacation, illnesses don’t. I was upset because I thought my illness should. So despite the setbacks, we enjoyed our time together. We came home early the next day because I was too sick. We came home before lunch and I fell asleep on my chair.

I realized I wasn’t *d* with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia, I was *d* living along side those diseases. I didn’t want to make room for either in my life. I was trying to set myself apart from the diseases in hopes that I would get better and it would just be “me” again. It’s all quite silly because my son has an incurable illness we have learned to accept. My problem is denial. On our last overnight stay six years ago we stayed near an amusement park and I was riding roller-coasters, walking long distances and I took no medication. Six years passed and changed very quickly. I’m not sure how I’ll finally accept sharing my life with these diseases.. maybe I never will.

That’s the way life is, things change and we have to learn to live with those changes we can’t do anything about. My grandmother had to adjust to life alone after my grandfather passed away. She learned to drive his lawnmower and drive herself where she needed to go because he wasn’t around to do those things with her anymore. It’s been a hard two years but she is adjusting. I have always thought of my grandmother as a strong person. Among many things, she is a beast cancer survivor but you’ll never hear her complain. I know I want to be more like her. Both she and my mom are strong women, and it’s usually not by choice. They have been forced to make room for the unexpected trials of life

This weekend had a good lesson for me; keep going despite the unexpected. I didn’t expect to be in terrible pain the day of our departure, but I can never anticipate what days will be the most difficult. I have to keep trying to enjoy what I can, when I can. I was in a lot of pain the entire weekend but I wouldn’t trade a minute of the time I got to spend with my husband.

I guess I need to think about whether I make room for the unexpected  gracefully or make it come by force; either way it’s coming. I like it when I can do it with something to look forward to or at least with a smile on my face.

*d*

The Clean that Holds the House Together

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If someone were to walk in my house, they may be tempted to say, “Wow! Her house is so clean and organized, she must have herself together!” And that’s exactly what I’d want you to think. The honest truth; what is going on inside of me looks nothing like what I allow to show on the outside. In fact, if I kept my house in the same condition as my mind, I’d be the next to appear on a television show that exposes hoarders. I can imagine a host strolling up to a tiny little door and hyping up the audience at home by saying, “This will be the worst hoarder ever exposed on television!!” The door opens and there I am in my ratty pajamas standing knee deep in the dark and dirty crevasses of my mind. Spiderwebs hanging where a college degree should be, rodents are gnawing holes in the time I take to care for myself, and I’d be balancing knee deep in the garbage of disease. Behind him come all those shocked faces of my family and friends who thought they knew me better.

As sad as that exposition would be, it wouldn’t be too far from the truth. I admit that I am sometimes a prisoner to my need to keep the world around me in order. If I know someone is coming over, even if I know they won’t be coming into the house, I straighten it up. I make sure I include cleaning the house as part of my afternoon routine. I squeeze it in between baths, making supper, starting homework, and all before my husband gets home. I’ll even do it if I am already running on fumes. He never asks to have the house clean when he comes home and he knows the mess I can be on the outside and inside but I still want him to know I am trying. I still want to feel like I have a purpose despite my disease or difficulty.

I have been this way for a long time, way before my son or I was diagnosed. It started with a family saying, “Everything has its place, everything in its place.” I think I was told this every time my childhood room looked like a disaster, and that was most of the time. I had the smallest room in the house and the most junk. Trying to keep it organized and clean was like trying to take out the weekly trash in a lunch bag. No matter how hard I tried, I never could get it clean. I eventually mastered the art of making things look clean when they really weren’t. I learned many tricks to accomplish this task, there was stuff the closet and hurry up and shut the door before it all comes out, shove it all under the bed and leave the comforter hang over to hide the mess, or my least favorite, don’t play with anything. I never really dealt with the mess, I just mastered how to keep it looking like I didn’t have the said mess. I was a kid, I hated getting rid of anything. I am still that way. I won’t get rid of anything that could be of use to me someday (yes, this thinking has come in handy). My house has refurbished decor of all kinds. I use and reuse things when I can. I don’t like to re-purchase something I once owned.

I get my hoarding tendencies honestly. My paternal grandmother is known for her need to collect things she sees as valuable. Anything antique is her specialty. I admit, the older the better when it comes to many items I wish to collect, but with limited funds and space, big or expensive items are not for me. I, like my maternal grandmother, find value in the little sentimental items that are easily collected and easily hid. My attic is full of school papers and artwork of my children that I don’t want to let go of. This spring I bought two extra large three ring binders and filled them with my favorite papers that the boys brought home from school. I filled up both binders right away. I know I should let go of certain items, stop cleaning my house to portray a less than chaotic life, but it’s how I cope.

Everyone has their own ways of coping with life. Some people shop (yes I have been known to do a bit of that when I have been depressed), my husband prays, some people drink, and other shut down. The list is limitless. It is important to cope with the difficulties of life in a healthy manner. Poor methods of dealing with these issues can lead to further destruction. I don’t know of any cleaning anonymous groups out there but if my habits were going to further stress my life, I’d find one. Thus far, I take the hurt or negative energy and channel it through a can of dusting spray or a vacuum cleaner. A can of cleaner is the only thing that has to worry about meeting my angry or distressed hand. At then end of my cleaning rage I can look around and feel a small sense of accomplishment. I know that sounds silly. There are many things in my life that feel out of control; my health and the health of my son, his autism, and our mounting financial concerns worsened by the burden of our diseases so I keep trying to do my best at those things I know I am good at like loving my children, trying to be a good wife, and yes, keeping our home kept nicely. It reminds me that I am still trying my hardest despite my difficulty. Since my job is to be a wife and mother, I’ll do the best I can at what I have been given. The day of concern will come when my house really does look like it should be on a hoarding show because that will be the time I have given up. Sadly, the illusion of a put together life is the only thing that sometimes holds me together. There are so many days when I feel like I can’t give anymore and any bit of accomplishment is a big deal.

I am continuing to work on those areas of my life that seem out of my control. Every day is a new chance for me to clean up those tattered crevasses of my mind and not just my house. Someday, I do dream of having the confidence of being able to open up my mind without fear of the mess inside.

*d*