When you are born stubborn and independent, it is hard to admit when you need help. So, when chronic, disabling disease comes knocking, it can be a particularly challenging house guest to adjust to.
My mother tells me, when I was a small child, offers of assistance with things like tying my shoes where often met with loud cries of “MYSELF” from my tiny, tenacious self. While I have learned to curb the urge to shout about it, that fiercely independent spirit is alive and well. She’s served me well over the years, getting me through college, helping me through whatever road blocks and detours life has sent my way. Facing disabling disease as a fiercely independent person however, is not so amazing. In the face of disabling disease, that independent spirit can become a road block itself.
I knew when I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) that it is a chronic degenerative disease, meaning it isn’t going anywhere and it’s going to slowly destroy stuff. I knew eventually I’d be faced with limitations. Eventually. I wouldn’t say I was okay with the idea, truthfully, I was crushed, but I did at least believe I’d be an old lady by then.
In walks reality, the eternal bubble-burster. Bringing with it fun facts like my RA is the very aggressive type and oh, by the way, sounds like it started in your teens so you’re quite a bit farther down the road than you thought. Turns out, as far as RA is concerned, I am already an old lady. At the very least, the arthritis remodeling is way ahead of schedule.
So, along comes disability. Remodeled and disfigured joints that just can’t do what I want them to. Now Ms. Independent has to learn to accept that she needs help, and then learn to ask for it. Over and over again. It is not an easy transition. I’m not sure I will ever be fully comfortable with it, to be honest.
Asking my people (and complete strangers) for help, however, feels like a very small challenge compared to that of using assistive devices. My Dr suggested a cane 6 months before I bought one. I didn’t want to need that, so I avoided using one. Seems silly if you’ve never had to face it. Is silly really. If you need a cane, you should obviously use one, but making the choice to pick up the cane was a big step for me. It was admitting that I need help. It was accepting that damage has been done. To my stubborn, independent side it felt like a massive defeat, and it announced to the world that I am broken.
As the RA continues to slow me down, I’ve had to learn to lean. On a cane. On a walker. On the arms of my loved ones. On two crutches. Three years later, I am accustomed to my trusty sticks, but secretly? I still believe someday I might not need them.