I ran into Maureen earlier this week, on a cold evening, as I walked home from rehearsal. We met when our kids were briefly in the same elementary school. Although our children were a few grades apart, we became friendly through various parent groups.
Her daughter, like mine, is an only child. We initially bonded over that. Then it became about the neighborhood, family and, finally, health. She’d asked about my cane, years ago, and we got to talking about RSD and autoimmune diseases. Maureen has rheumatoid arthritis. Now, when we see each other, we joke about “not looking sick!” And tell each other how “great we look!” It’s something only another person with a so-called “invisible illness” truly gets.
Over the last year, we talked about high schools for her daughter and colleges for mine. She was worried about what would happen to Allie, as a high school freshman. We talked a lot about the support she needs and Maureen’s worry that she won’t get the same academic attention in a bigger school. I can understand her concerns. We all worry about our kids. It’s what parents do.
But, this time, something else was wrong. My mind went immediately to Allie, but that wasn’t it. Maureen was deeply troubled and seemed like she needed to vent. She explained the difficulties she recently had, trying to get her medications. That some of her docs told her that they couldn’t prescribe any more pain meds – without giving her any advanced notice – and that she’d just have to switch to Advil or Aleve. AND, to add insult to serious injury, her RA injections wouldn’t be easy to come by either. What is this brand of medicine?!?! It seems more like being run over than ethical, compassionate care.
If you’ve ever had a debilitating pain condition that requires the use of prescription medications, you know that stopping any med suddenly is dangerous and switching to OTC medications like Advil or Aleve will likely not help. It leaves the patient open to things like adverse reactions, intense flares, seizures and even death.
I stood listening to Maureen talking about her health, her desperate need of a job that’s flexible, her money worries, and the joy that Allie got accepted to great high schools – but they’re outrageously expensive. Maureen’s despair was palpable. With nothing to offer but a listening ear, I did just that. What else could be done? When we parted, we made our usual joke about not looking sick, but this time it was half-hearted and sad.
I realize that I live in grace. My life is a series of moments where, in my head, I’m screaming “WHY ME?!?!” Outwardly, I project this image of positivity and strength, or so I’ve been told. Believe me, my head goes to the scary place of self-pity way more than anyone will ever know. But those awful moments are cushioned by many things. My family. My friends. My job. All of the moments that leave me saying “really??” are met by people and circumstances that enable me to keep fighting. That give me reasons to fight.
Walking away from Maureen, I felt at a loss. How do we help each other? I wish there was an easy answer. I wish I knew of a job. And I wish I could easily predict what high school will be like for Allie. But I can’t. As a “fixer,” (someone who is compelled to offer suggestions and solutions to various problems in an effort to “fix” things), it was gut-wrenching to stand in front of this woman – this fellow mom and chronic illness warrior – and have nothing to offer that could help in any way. It felt like failure, tasted like shame.
Our lives are full of hit and run moments, some happening so frequently that we barely have time to stand up before the next one wipes us out. And there’s no easy solution there. No “fix.”
Instead, I’m left with another “really?” moment. Not for me this time, but someone I care about. I’m just throwing it out into the universe, asking whoever’s out there to give us a break. To let us have some time between those hit and run moments, at least long enough for us to catch our breath.
Be kind to one another.
Peace & painlessness,