Take me for example. I abhor appearing weak. I absolutely hate it, and yet sometimes the pain from this auto-immune disease positively knocks the wind out of me. I walk slower.I don't smile. I have trouble moving out of your way when you say "excuse me" in your rush to get by me in the grocery aisle. And I feel like a burden for that second you glance at me with that judgemental look. It hurts.
Today I am very sad. I see how easy it is in our overly zealous, get-things-done-now society to remember to practice simple kindness with others. Everyone is in such a rush. And if I feel the sting every few months when I suffer a relapse, I hate to think of what the elderly or disabled feel like every day. When I am in chronic pain, I don't have the luxury of taking a day off. I move through it as best I can. But dealing with the pain is not the worst part. The worst part is dealing with the people I run into during the day who get frustrated with me.
Having this disease means that every time I fail to take really good care of myself, get enough sleep, eat organically, pace myself....I crash. For me the first sign is as general malaise. Something feels 'not right.' This is followed by swollen gums and the inability to eat anything other than liquid foods. Then a fever sets in. It lasts from 2-5 days, and never gets above 100 degrees, but it runs me down. Finally, the worst part, is the rheumatoid arthritis. It hurts to get out of bed. It hurts to bend over and tie my shoes. It hurts to walk. It hurts to type. It hurts to do just about everything. It's hard to smile when I'm dealing with this, but I try. I hate having everyone asking what's wrong. I just want to be left alone to manage the pain until it disappears as mysteriously as it arrives.
At the grocery store, I have to ask for help getting the bags in my cart. Sometimes the cashier gives me a look of disdain, as if I am one of those entitled types that is too lazy to lift anything myself. Then, when I try to back my car out of my parking space and must really take my time ( since I can't turn my neck all the way over my shoulder), there will be someone (last night it was a man in a BMW) who will honk their horn at me and give an angry look, as if I were moving at a snail's pace just to cause him grief. Even my daughter is not immune. She's a teen after all, and when I ask for help getting the bags in the house, I get told I'm lazy. I know she doesn't really mean it, but it hurts.
But the gift that this terrible disease has given me, is a new level of patience and understanding of those around me. I don't honk at slow drivers so much anymore. I don't rush to get past the slow person in the grocery store. I wait quietly when someone is backing out of a parking space --and I take the time to say a prayer, instead of curse them under my breath. We all need to be a little more patient. We never know what physical, emotional or mental burdens that person is carrying. We are all fighting a hard battle every day, and we need compassion.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say something crazy. As painful as this disease is, I have reached a point where I see it as a great gift. God took this terrible life-sentence and turned it into a blessing. He can do that with anything terrible in our lives. Just ask Him. Two years ago, when I first experienced this disease, I started asking God to show me the silver lining that might be hiding behind the pain and suffering. He did, and continues to. I am not a patient person by nature, but God is using this disease to strengthen me spiritually and emotionally, while the disease itself tries to weaken me physically.He is teaching me patience and trust and faith. The pain itself has won me a deeper compassion for others. Suffering truly is a crucible where God is able to refine us, if only we let Him. I hope you can find the silver linings in your own suffering today.
God bless you.