In Her Shoes ~ The Invisible Battles

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

In Her Shoes ~ The Invisible Battles

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.

mom's small victories - tanya

tanya signature

 

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.

~ Love, 

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Written by ginger


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21 Comments
  • Thanks so much for inviting me to share my story. I love this series and reading about what people face in their daily lives. I am always curious as I people watch what their stories are and love that bloggers can share first hand what they go through.

  • Thanks for sharing your story with us. I have to admit, I’d probably be one of those people thinking exactly what you said about seeing you carrying your son from a handicapped parking spot. I’m humbled but thankful to you for making me stop and see things (people) differently.
    I know that sharing all of this won’t take any of your pain away, but I also know from the experience of suffering with things that people don’t understand, that it can get lonely. Sometimes just knowing that people know what you’re dealing with and that they care can help lighten the load.
    Love your positive attitude on your blog and that you celebrate the small victories!

    • Thanks Beth. The way I see it I compensate for my foot pain by having strong arms. It is kind of like a blind person having a heightened sense of smell or hearing. My ability to grip things with my individual hands are weak but I can hold up my kids and lock my hand on my other wrist so it makes it easier to hold them. But then if my shoulders are hurting like they do in the morning, I can’t pick him up at all. I know how it must look to others but still sometimes it is the safer choice. Thanks for understanding and trying to see it from my point of view. That is all I can hope for. RA is a very lonely disease, I don’t know many people in person that have it. And if I get down, my friends and family worry and I don’t want them to do that either. My blog helps and taking comfort from kind strangers.

  • Sue Jackson says:

    Wonderfully written, Tanya, as always! Even though I live with an invisible illness myself, I knew very little about RA, other than that it caused pain, so I learned a lot from this post. I totally understand what you are describing, though, because my illness is even more invisible. You won’t even see my abnormalities if you look very closely because they are in my cells! My poor little mitochondria don’t make energy properly. My son and I were just talking about how even close friends don’t always understand because other people only see us when we feel well enough to be out and about. When we are at our worst – unable to get up off the couch – we are at home. So, only the immediate family really gets it.

    However, one thing I have learned from living with chronic illness is just what you are saying in this post – I have learned that pretty much everyone is dealing with something, and much of the time, it is not visible. Maybe the clerk who was rude is losing her mother to cancer or the guy who cut you off in traffic just got fired. Living with chronic illness has taught me that you never know what another person is dealing with under the surface, so it pays to be compassionate and not jump to conclusions.

    Thank you for sharing your story – as I said on your blog, it helps ALL of us with all of the invisible illnesses to raise awareness that this stuff exists and is not always obvious.

    Sue

    Live with CFS

    P.S. Ginger – this is the first time I’ve seen this wonderful feature of yours. If you are interested in a story on living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, an immune disorder, please let me know!

    • Hi Sue, thanks so much for your kind words. You are so right that everyone has some battle to face, whether its our own health, health of a loved one or some other financial stressor. Although it’s hard for me to write about my illness because of the mental anguish it causes me, it does help me see that I am not alone in my journey. The more I open up, the more others share their stories with me and I am grateful for that.

      I am sorry your family and friends aren’t as supportive. I am lucky that mine are extremely supportive, sometimes too much in fact that we kindly argue about things I can do. But I’ve learned to let go and accept their help, though I am way too stubborn for my kids to see me in a wheelchair yet 🙂

  • Imajule76 says:

    Thank you so much for sharing Tanya. I walk in the shoes of chronic pain – I’m so sorry you have to experience it as well.

    You shared with much grace and kindness. It’s hard to maintain that attitude with some when in daily pain. Thanks for reminding to have this attitude with others who might be judging.

    • You’re very welcome and I appreciate your support. So very sorry to hear of your chronic pain. I’ve come to accept the pain as my new “normal” and adjust my routine and my parenting expectations to go easier on myself. I hope your pain is under control and you have better days ahead. Thanks for your comment.

  • Mark Allman says:

    Tanya,
    We are wrong when we assign worth to some peoples struggles and none to others. I do think we all struggle with things in this life. I know most all of my scars are not visible. Thankfully most have healed over but some are still raw. I think we have to work hard not to judge that which we do not know. We need to cultivate a spirit of compassion knowing that everyone in this life could use it at one time or another. We don’t have to know the facts to extend grace to others. We need to convince ourselves that knowing the facts is not a prerequisite to extending love in this world. We don’t even judge the “facts” very well at times.
    Above all love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8. Most of the time the sin that it covers for me is mine.
    One of my most favorite bloggers in another Tanya who suffers ME who blogs here http://tanyamarlow.com/ She speaks boldly about the same things she speak about.
    I wish you well.

    • Very well said Mark. Whose to say which struggles are worth more or harder than others? I am not here to judge and don’t need others to judge me, that’s up to the God I believe in after my life on earth is over. Compassion and empathy are what I strive for and if RA teaches me and my kids anything, it’s how to empathize with others, we never know what battles someone else is facing. Thanks for your support and comment!

  • Tanya:
    This post is written so beautifully and so well. Thank you for helping to spread the word about invisible illnesses. Hugs to you!

    • Thanks so much Amy! It’s amazing how many people suffer from invisible illnesses. As hard as it is to share my personal, difficult feelings with this disease, the more I share, the more others share their stories with me. It’s comforting to know I am not alone in my battle, and so many have it worse than I. I always appreciate your support and comments!

  • Pamela says:

    I deal with chronic pain so this certainly had me nodding my head. I was asked to speak about “my story.” Infertility, the death of a child and chronic pain. It was interesting to me that I had more people who wanted to discuss the chronic pain issue than any of the other things I talked about. I think many suffer in silence because people think “it’s in their head.” Thank you for sharing your story. ~Pamela

    • Thanks Pamela for sharing your story and so sorry for the loss of your child. I can empathize as we lost our first child and one and only daughter during pregnancy, her loss is a pain that can’t be healed. So very true, many people suffer and there are so many causes of chronic pain. The more I share about my RA, the more people I find that have it or a similar disease. Sorry it took so long to respond but I do appreciate your support and comment!

  • Tanya, I have two dear friends with RA and they both have lupus…I know to some extent how you suffer. I have degenerative SI disease and live with extreme pain in my back, on top of fibromyalgia. I too have trouble walking long distances and just recently got a handicap parking tag. It took me a couple of weeks to even use it, I was so afraid of the stares. But I know I need it and am thankful for it. Friend, you have to do what you have to do!! I used to minimize everything about my pain and suffering until my dear friend with RA asked me to stop acting like “my pain” didn’t matter. She said “Just because I have two broken legs and you have one doesn’t make yours hurt any less!” So true!! Pain is pain and some days it just hurts to be hurting.

    Thank you for sharing your story with others. I am certainly praying for you today, for strength, for courage and for God to help you in raising your precious children. ♥
    nannette

    • Thanks so much Nannette and sorry to hear that you and your friends suffer from autoimmune and painful diseases. I know how you feel, some days I don’t want to deal with the judgment and will walk further but the limp becomes more obvious. Your friend is wise and I need to remember to not minimize my pain. I tend to shove the pain under the rug until I hit absolute rock bottom and can’t stand anymore. Thanks for the prayers and my prayers are with you and your friends. You are lucky to have friends that can empathize and understand what challenges you are going through on an emotional, mental and physical level. Gentle hugs to you.

  • Meg says:

    Sending prayers your way friend! My mother has epilepsy, which is often invisible too. So many people suffer from “invisible” illnesses. Thank you for speaking out and calling others to wake up and judge less. Each of us carries a cross, visible or not. Blessings to you and your family!! Love and prayers!!

    Meghan

  • Kate says:

    Found this via the #throwbackthursday linkup! Thanks so much for sharing. I had no idea how bad RA was. I know a woman my mom worked with has it, but didn’t know what exactly it did to the body. Thank you so much for an educational article.

  • Thanks Kate, I am glad my post raised awareness about RA. When people hear “arthritis”, they think it’s an old person’s disease but RA is a completely different animal and one that can cause more pervasive joint and organ damage. I hope your mom’s co-worker’s RA is well controlled, I’m lucky that very strong medicine allows me to keep up with these 3 little boys. Thanks for your support of my writing and my blog Kate 🙂

  • […] am choosing the post from Mom’s Small Victories. She guest posted over at Just One of the Boys on living with an invisible illness. I could relate to some of the things she had to say since I […]

  • April says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. My pain areas are different, but my feelings are so much the same. I hope you can find a treatment that makes life easier.

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I’m Ginger ~
I'm a wife to my Beloved, mom of three boys, bookworm, survivor of a broken heart, and Kansas Girl. It is my desire to encourage you. No matter what storm you're going through right now, you are not alone. I promise.
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