“You could get better if you wanted to.” “You should just try harder.” “You’re being lazy.” “You need to be more motivated.” “You’re so needy.”
Have you ever heard any of these comments from friends and family members? Have you ever said one of these to someone living with illness or pain? Often when we come across someone who says he has been sick or in pain for a long time, we think he is either exaggerating or not doing something about it. After all, when most people get sick, they get some rest, take some medication and are soon back on their feet. So why can’t our loved ones do that, too?
What we usually do not realize is how much people do attempt to regain their health. They have seen many doctors, had tons of tests, tried lots of medications and have undergone an unknown number of procedures. Yet, as we all well know, doctors do not always have all the answers. In fact, as our modern medicine improves, chronic illness actually rises. Excellent medical care saves lives and thereby, increases the rate of chronic illness.
Many times, we view those living with pain and illness as if their situation is due to a lack of motivation or attitude. They ask for help and we think they need to help themselves. We tell them if they “would just try harder,” have a “better attitude” and use “mind over matter,” they would not be suffering. Suffering can come upon us suddenly or gradually over time. Sometimes the cause is never known or found. Yet, the way people are judged and mistrusted can sometimes have just as devastating an impact on the sufferer as the actual pain or illness.
Quite often, the healthiness or appearance of fitness can add even more disbelief to the situation, especially if you are the strongest man in the world or at least play one on screen. As the star of the popular television show, “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” Kevin Sorbo portrayed an invincible demigod. He relished living the part—putting in 14-hour days on set, doing his own stunts and relentlessly working out at the gym. Until one day, it all came to an abrupt end.
Kevin, IDA’s 2013 Inspiration Honors Award recipient, shared in his book, True Strength – My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal—and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life, what viewers didn’t know – he suffered three strokes from an aneurysm in his shoulder that had been radiating blood clots throughout his body, likely for months. He was left partially blind and entirely incapacitated at just 38 years old.
Every time I told someone my story, it was hard. (Doing so is uncomfortable to this day, but I have discovered it is also therapeutic.) People’s incredulous reactions always made me feel more helpless. Even the professionals, who hid their initial surprise and approached treatment with positive words and a great attitude, could not disguise their uncertainty at treating a young person for an old guy’s disease.
We should never treat our loved ones as if they have chosen to have this condition and quit taking part in the activities they enjoy and miss. This approach is incredibly misconstrued, because why would they choose to give up the things they love? Most of all, why would we tell someone debilitated by his illness, “You just don’t want to work,” “You just don’t want to go out for dinner” or “You just don’t want to play with your children,” when he wants those things for himself more than we could possibly want those things for him. The truth is, if we look a little closer, we might see that our friend or family member is fighting this illness every step of the way, with courage most of us may never experience.
IDA 2013 Corporate Honors Award recipient and co-founder of RE/MAX, Dave Liniger, has done more adventurous things in his life than almost anybody I know. He served in Vietnam, is an avid pilot, has raced in NASCAR, has sky dived and even tried to circle the globe in a balloon. Yet in 2012, it was not an adrenaline activity that almost took his life, but a staph infection. Dave, who was always a strong leader, became the one who was most in need of others. Even from the onset of the illness, he was having a tough time asking for help. Dave shared his experience in his book, My Next Step: An Extraordinary Journey of Healing and Hope.
I’m the kind of man who rarely, if ever, asks for help. In my mind, real men don’t need a hand from anyone—ever. In fact, I rather despised the thought of being dependent on someone else, so for me to suggest that I might be in need was actually a very big deal. I just had a gut feeling that something bad was about to happen.
Yet, Dave did understand that people asking for help were not needy but in need. Thirty years ago, Dave’s wife, and then fiancé, Gail was recovering from her injuries sustained in a plane crash. “Even though I’d adhered to the ‘leave no man behind’ philosophy since I was in the military, this was the seminal moment when I vowed to myself that it would be my policy for life. No one deserves to be alone when they are sick, helpless and unable to care for themselves.”
Dave is in recovery from his illness, and I believe he has learned that sometimes no matter how strong you may think you are, there are times when you need others. I like to say that there are times when you need someone to carry the other end of the board. Or maybe even carry you.
In the midst of our busyness, especially during the holidays, let’s remember those who live with illness, pain or disability. We may have a friend, family member, someone at church, at work or a neighbor. Often those living with a debilitating condition are isolated and feel lonely or forgotten. There are many, simple ways we can show our love that does not take much of our time. So, let’s show them they are important to us by sharing our love with them throughout the year!
Although our schedules can get crazy, we can prioritize and even give up a few things that really aren’t that necessary. We can remember them with a card, a surprise gift in the mail, a phone call, bring them a meal or arrange a visit. We can also offer rides to doctor appointments or ask what they need from the grocery store. We can make a point to invite them to join us for a holiday dinner or party. What a gift it would be to be included! They need us. And we need them, too. Together, we can shine a little light in a dark time in their lives. Let’s all envision a world where people living with illness, pain and disability will be Invisible No More!
This article was first published on Disability.Blog, by Disability.Gov on November 14, 2013.