By Wayne Connell, Founder and President of the Invisible Disabilities Association
It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving 2012 has already come and gone. Usually it falls on the last week of November, so it was early this year. Even though Thanksgiving is now over, when I started thinking about what to write about this month, the obvious choice was being thankful. So here it goes.
I have so many things to be thankful for this past year. First of all, I am thankful to Disability.gov for allowing me to share, on a monthly basis, great stories, ideas, tips and insights about and for people touched by illness, pain and disability (read my previous posts on Disability.Blog).
Second, I am so thankful for you, the reader. You have provided wonderful insights via your numerous comments, and have honored me with thousands of Facebook “Likes”. Please keep spreading the word and sharing the Invisible Disabilities Association’s (IDA) message though social media. I hope the stories provide comfort and validation for your daily journey with illness and pain, much of which may be invisible to others. I am also thankful for my faith, my friends, the IDA Board members, the IDA supporters and sponsors and so many others.
Finally, I am very thankful for my family and especially my wife, Sherri, who provides many of the stories I write about because of her daily life with illness and pain. I know she would rather not have a story and instead be living a normal boring life. Ours is an adventure every day. Sherri amazes me with her determination during each of life’s difficult moments.
As many of you know, because of the invisible nature of many illnesses and disabilities, sometimes family members and friends can have a hard time believing what we go through. This may be partly because they still see you the way you were before illness and pain. Even though you made the transition (and not by choice), they haven’t. Of course, because of the invisible symptoms, “seeing is believing” doesn’t always work. My advice to family and friends is simply to believe your loved ones when they tell you what they are going through.
Last week for Thanksgiving, Sherri and I traveled to my brother’s house to spend time with him, my sister-in-law, my four nephews and my mom. I haven’t been to his house in three years and it has been nine years for Sherri. Riding in the car is difficult for Sherri, and my brother lives five hours away. The four day weekend helped because it gave Sherri some time to recuperate from the drive. A shorter stay would never have worked.
What made this past Thanksgiving so special, probably the best one we have had in a decade, is that we got to see my brother, his family and my mom. But it wasn’t just seeing them in person, which was great, but what they had to do to allow Sherri to stay at their house and to interact with them.
In addition to MS and Lyme disease, Sherri lives with chemical intolerance, also known as multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). She gets very ill from any type of fragranced or chemical product. It is estimated that 12.5 to 15 percent of Americans live with this condition. People with asthma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism and many other illnesses can also be impacted by the chemicals used in fragrances. You can find more information about MCS at www.cleanerindoorair.org.
I am so thankful to my family for not only using fragrance free products during our stay, but also removing all of the candles and any other products in their house that had a fragrance. They changed their laundry detergent years ago so that it wouldn’t be a problem.
One of the main issue that impacts people with illness is isolation. During our trip, Sherri and I cherished the togetherness and time with our family. Was it hard for my brother’s family and my mom? According to them, the answer is no. One of my nephews even commented that in order to spend time with his Aunt Sherri, he gladly gave up his favorite orange colored shampoo for the four day stay.
There are so many people who are in pain daily who feel left out at this time of year. Reaching out to them is not a hard thing to do. Maybe it’s a phone call just to say “hi” and let them know you care. Maybe you can bake them their favorite cookies or pie and deliver that homemade gift to them. You can also send them a card or present, although your presence would probably be their favorite gift.
On our social network, IDA hosts online chats during the holidays for those who would like a sense of community. You can help, too, by reaching out to your neighbors, friends and family who you know are dealing with illness and pain. Let them know you care. Tell them you are thankful for them, that they inspire you and their perseverance amazes you.
When you spend time with them, talk about things other than their illness. They live with the pain and disability daily and sometimes would much rather talk about the weather, the holidays, shopping or their family and friends. Together you can enjoy expressing your blessings and gratitude.
We can all make someone else’s day brighter this holiday season by sharing a smile, a hug, a card, a meal, a call or a kind word. All of these cost little or nothing, yet they can impact another for a lifetime. If we work together and love one another, we can be truly thankful for each other. 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. November 30, 2012.
The Visible Invisible Disability (coming soon)