Disabled Life, Abled Love
It's no secret that the community of people who suffer from chronic illness and disability is in an uproar due to the rash and erroneous statements made by Dr. Phil on Tuesday, March 12. In this episode, Dr. Phil claimed that "100 out of 100 relationships that involve care-giving fail. You can be a caregiver or a lover but you can't be both." I've never seen a more beautiful response than from the #100outof100 that's trending on Facebook and Instagram, and as a young, single, chronically ill woman myself, it may seem that I'm not qualified to have any opinion on this topic at all. But, I'd like to offer a fresh perspective to the community and to overall society. Everyone may be appalled by Dr. Phil's statement, but how often does society and communities all over the U.S. actually treat the chronically ill and disabled this way? Thank you, Dr. Phil, for saying out loud what most people think, but would never make audible. Your statement is currently bringing to light the attitudes of many and states that this is a social and cultural mindset that needs to change. Well, this is my perspective, and if you read all the way to the end, you'll find that I may be more qualified to discuss this topic than some might think.
My parents were married in the year 1980, and my mother was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease in the year 2013. It took years for my mother to receive a diagnosis, which means that there were 33 years of unresolved health problems and 39 years total of disability and struggle.
On my parent's wedding day, my mother was eminently sick, and that was merely a taste of the next 39 years for them. I don't ever remember a time when my mother wasn't sick. My mother is the best mother I could have ever been sent to because despite chronic weakness, fatigue, and unexplained neurological symptoms, she successfully raised six kids in a happy and healthy home who are now thriving adults in society. It wasn't until I came along that symptoms became less tolerable and more abundant with time. As a teenager, I remember my mother often being bedridden throughout the winter months and hospitalized frequently. It didn't make it any easier that my parents had me, who seemed to always be sick with strange and unexplained symptoms, and the frequent doctors appointments for both of us almost never left us with any answers or hope to someday receive answers.
It wasn't until I was a junior in high school that my mom went down for the long run. Her pain levels were excruciating, she would often suffer from spontaneous seizures due to the high levels of physical pain, and she experienced pain so deep and severe that I often wondered what happened to my mom because she wasn't the same person when she was this ill. She was bedridden for years, she lost her ability to walk and was in a wheelchair for awhile, and again... there were no doctors that had any answers to give us other than that there is no illness with all of her symptoms.
Right when life reached it's peak of pain and discouragement, right when most people would leave and surrender to it all, right in the middle of no improvement, and right when a large majority of people would leave... my dad chose to stay. There wasn't a life to be had. There wasn't a possibility of going to work, or church, or anything else that an average man would do because when mom went down, my dad took his rightful position as husband AND full time caretaker. The position he promised he would take the day that he married her.
I've watched my dad care for and love my mother through this awful disease for years, and he isn't planning on stopping anytime soon. I've watched him feed her, push her wheelchair, and peel her off the floor after she's passed out or after a seizure. I've watched him drive when she lost her ability to. I've watched him take over the cooking and cleaning when she lost her strength to do it herself. I've watched him do what any real man would do when the love of his life is put in a situation like this. Because why would you trust a stranger that you pay for to take care of the person that you love and cherish more than anything in the entire world?
True love has absolutely nothing to do with physical ability or lack there of. True love has everything to do with two hearts and souls that would give and sacrifice ANYTHING for the well being of the other person. And if both people in the relationship have that mindset, then both people are thoroughly taken care of. My mother has always been a help-meet to my father. And when she was able, she was always by his side, helping and supporting him in all of his endeavors. My parents set out to be a team from the very beginning, so when they were brought to a point where they had to walk through the fire, they walked through it together without being burned alive.
Not only did my father have the task of taking care of a sick wife, but he also is frequently met with the task of taking care of a sick daughter as well. My small family of three pulls together in our house, and through sweat and tears, we take care of each other, no matter how difficult it gets. Often through the fire of chronic illness, I've so frequently been shut down by others, which is why it's crucial to have a family that is your full-time caretaker.
We live in a society where the breakdown of the family is dominating and the definition of love is becoming increasingly shallow. As a young single person, I watch many healthy young people searching for someone who can be their eternal companion, and basing their decision on how much fun they can have with a person, and how pretty looking they can appear to be together. Why would you need to take care of the person you love when you have doctors, therapists, physiologists, bishops, and pastors doing it for you? Wouldn't it be easier to hire somebody who is a qualified "expert" because they learned about it in a textbook once when they were in college?
The answer is no because true love has nothing to do with how good you can look on Facebook, and often the experiences that cultivate the greatest love are not shared on social media. Often the experiences that cultivate the most love are dark, scary, and require sacrifice. Cultivation of love is often brought on by those experiences that open your eyes to how much you would miss that person if you lost them.
I'll never forget the comments I've received from people towards the men I've dated about how wonderful a man he must be because he's willing to be with "someone like me." I often wonder if the person that told me that "it makes sense why no one would want to be with me" is right in some ways. And I often think of the many men that frustratingly have asked me what it would take to be with me because they don't think they could do it.
What all these people are forgetting is that love is patient and kind. Love is not skin deep but is something that penetrates into the heart and soul of two people who would give anything to be together. What happens when that "perfect" husband or wife becomes paraplegic, or chronically ill? Has our society come so far as to say they won't love another human soul unless there's a guarantee that everything will stay easy and comfortable all the time? Because if we've come that far, then society is seriously disintegrating before our eyes. No wonder there are so many incredible disabled women I know that feel like they're destined to be alone.
As a chronically ill single girl, I know my worth. I know my mind and heart have more to give than a lot of people who are physically able and strong! And I know that there are thousands and millions of chronically ill people out there who are worthy of love because the love that they have to give is the kind of love that lasts into the eternities.
When something is broken, you fix it. You don't throw it away. When you choose to love someone who is broken, the brokenness heals. Because doctors and "experts" cannot heal you. But love can. It is possible to love at maximum capacity while coping with disability and illness. May we all choose to see that in whomever it is that we come to love someday.
1 Corithians 13:4-8
Finally caught up with reading this, Claire. It was lovely. But won't there be another story about how all of you are doing these days? Hope so!
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