I’m slipping into one of those periods when I have absolutely no tolerance for people who, from where I sit, are pretty darn well off yet seem obsessed with focusing on their “burdens.”
The need to take medications on a schedule is a good example. There’s a TV commercial for an osteoporosis medication that only needs to be taken once a month that portrays the alternative treatment -- having to take one pill a week -- as the most complicated, inconvenient task ever. And I recently saw a woman who had been given a new life in the form of a kidney transplant talk about how horrible it was to need to take her anti-rejection medication twice a day. Are you kidding me? I need to take anywhere between 35 and 60 pills every day just to function, some of which are taken every three hours. And I’m happy to do it -- these drugs enable me to function relatively free from pain, spasms, depression and infection. What’s to complain about?
Body image is another hot button topic. I’ve had it up to here with people with the most mild body imperfections whining about how devastating it is for them. The latest was someone with scoliosis (a side-to-side curve of the spine) talking about feeling terribly self-conscious in a bathing suit because she was sure everyone was staring. I have scoliosis, plus a 90 degree front to back spinal curve that makes me look as though I have no neck and thrusts my head forward, scars all over my body, and a Quasimodo-like hump in my left shoulder caused by a muscle graft. If I worried about people staring at me, I’d never get out of bed. I have to wonder how this woman with scoliosis would ever survive if something truly disfiguring ever happened to her.
The one that really gets under my skin is pain levels. My neurological problems have progressed so much that I now need pretty high levels of several narcotic pain medications to manage my pain. Leaving the house for errands or any size, from getting my hair cut to traveling to my doctor in Puerto Rico, come with a price tag -- my pain levels flare for hours or days, keeping me in bed until they calm down enough for me to get back in my wheelchair and start over again.
I’m not angry about this -- everything in life is about trade-offs, and that’s just the trade-off I need to make. What does make me angry is listening to people with a much milder neuro condition complain about how their pain levels go way up after playing softball with their kids, or how brave they are for dealing with their pain without prescription drugs. How can they be so blind to what incredible blessings those abilities are? Yet instead of hearing how thankful they are for still having the ability to run around with kids, or to get by with ibuprofen, conversations with them are riddled with comments about how hard their lives are.
I just don’t get it.
I have a new friend, who has it pretty bad off. She’s my age, and like me uses a wheelchair because of muscle tremors and weakness. But unlike me, her home is not fully accessible -- she must rely on a portable commode chair because she can’t get her wheelchair into her bathroom -- and she lives in severe, chronic pain because no pain medications work for her. But despite leading a life in which she’s lost her independence and her privacy, I’ve never heard her complain. When you talk with her, it’s clear that she’s so far beyond the debates over whether her glass is half full or half empty -- everything she does, every word she says makes it clear that she’s so incredibly grateful to still have a glass.
That’s exactly how I feel about my life. It doesn’t matter most days whether it’s good or bad -- it’s still mine, and I’m damn grateful to be able to wake up every day, even if those days are filled with pain.
I really want to be more tolerant, and to be able to embrace emotionally what I know logically -- that these problems are very real to these people, and that for them, these situations are the worst they have known. But there are days when it’s so very hard not to scream, “Do you realize how good you have it, not just compared to me but to so many people in the world?” I pray that these folks never have to look back on their current lives as the good old days, but I sure wish they’d be able to focus less on what they’ve lost and a lot more on everything they’ve got.