In Her Shoes is a series written by readers to give us a glimpse into their lives – to see what it is like to walk in their shoes. Today I am excited to introduce you to my blogging buddy Tanya! Her posts are such an inspiration to me, and I know that you will be encouraged, too! You can find Tanya at her lovely blog – Mom’s Small Victories. Let’s join our friend as she shares with us what it is like to walk in her shoes. ~ Love, G
I pull our minivan into the handicapped parking spot and the dread begins. The eyes of other customers who might see me and my son as we walk into the store, sometimes me carrying him. Neither of us in a wheelchair or using a cane. The judgmental eyes that are thinking, “they look perfectly healthy, why are they parking in a spot when someone with a ‘real’ disability might need it?” I have my answer ready should someone challenge me but no one has yet. I know many people in my same circumstances who are not so lucky.
The truth is I suffer from a chronic “invisible” illness called Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). RA is an autoimmune disorder, one where my immune system destroys healthy joints. RA is “invisible” to others because at first glance, I appear to be your average, healthy mom. Carrying my son while he “monkey hugs” me to hang on is sometimes easier and safer than wrestling a wriggly boy across the street when he can outrun me.
However, if you take a closer look at me, you’d see the physical toll that 12 years of having RA has taken on my hands. The scar on my right hand showing previous surgery and my fingers deviating in such a way that I cannot straighten my hands and lie them flat. Only x-rays can show the true damage RA has taken on joints all over my body. Blood tests and doctors appointments show the potential damage RA can do to my eyes, liver, thyroid, heart and other organs. None of which you can see, all of which I can feel.
As if my hands weren’t embarrassing enough to me, my feet are even worse. Every step I take in bare feet is very painful, my bones hitting the floor without the cushion of healthy cartilage that has been destroyed. My four toes on my right foot had 6 inch pins in them after surgery and no longer bend. I wear slippers or tennis shoes all the time just to be able to tolerate the pain of standing or walking. I take medicine that costs $20,000 a year just to be able to walk, thank goodness for insurance that covers most of that.
The worst part of RA is how it’s impacted me as a mom. The pain started 6 weeks after my first son was born. Growing up I was an active kid, I played sports in every season and the piano. My love of sports was great for being a mom of 3 boys, but not so great when I can’t play with them like I would like. One awkward kick of the soccer ball, or a lack of grip when I throw a football, or difficulty when I try to play my favorite songs on the piano will send me into tears of pain or sadness. My husband and I used to love to dance salsa and merengue in college. I still attempt to dance at special functions but pay the price when my feet are in burning pain at the end of the night.
I don’t talk about my health much, the stress of thinking about it sends me into a flare. The joint pain and fatigue worsen and I can’t get off the couch or bed. It doesn’t help my family so I try to “keep calm and carry on.” I try to maintain a positive attitude and my blog celebrating my small victories has helped me cope and fight depression.
I share my story today in hopes that people will try to put themselves in strangers’ shoes, rather than judge people based on appearances. For the few bad apples that take advantage of the system and handicapped spots, there are some of us that do truly need it, whether you can tell we do or not. Everyone has a battle to endure, whether visible or invisible, let’s encourage, love and support one another rather than rush to judgment.
To read more encouraging stories, or if you are interested in sharing your own story, please go to the In Her Shoes tab near the top of the page. I love learning about the people in this series. Connecting with others seems to make the world feel not quite as big and scary. We’re all in this together. I can’t wait to hear from you, to read your stories, and learn more of what it is like to walk in your shoes.
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