My friend Al, who has multiple sclerosis, went to his physician with some troublesome new symptoms. “Am I feeling this way because I’m aging or is it the MS?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied the doctor.
Lately, my disability due to MS has increased significantly. I need help getting a forkful (or spoon full) of food to my mouth. I need help washing my face and brushing and flossing my teeth. I feel sad and angry about this loss of independence.
When I can’t do something I used to be able to do, my monster-mind jumps in with commentary: “this wouldn’t be happening if you had just exercised more, or stayed on that special diet or [fill in alternative treatment here].” “Don’t ask for help yet. Come on! Keep trying! If you try hard enough, you can do this!”
My monster-mind is quick to point out that whoever is helping me isn’t doing as well as I used to do. My eyes still have crusties in them after Jenny washes them. Matt gives me bites that include both vegetables and main dish (and those bites are so big). How is anybody else supposed to brush the backsides of my teeth? It just won’t do!
In the first draft of this blog post I wrote “having a body means living with indignities.” Dignity, the dictionary tells me, is “bearing, conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect… Nobility of character; worthiness…”
Hidden beneath those monster rants is the belief that needing help makes me unworthy.
As Eleanor Roosevelt pointed out, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Hidden beneath those monster rants is the belief that perfection is possible and necessary.
Brené Brown writes “imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we are all in this together.”
I need to understand – deep down in my bones – the nobility and naturalness of disability. Those of us lucky enough to live into old age are likely to live in disabled bodies. Living in this disabled body and with monster voices, I will hear about how others are inconvenienced. I will hear that I could have done it better or used to do it better. As always with monsters
Let the monsters wail and rant. Then, take three slow breaths, return to this moment and open tender space for this aging, ill body/mind/spirit, trying so hard to be what it was in the face of a changing world. Times have changed. Things are different but not necessarily worse.
If I leave behind the judgments, if I leave behind the woulda-coulda-shouldas, I may drop into a pool of grace where others care for me and stand by me me when the monsters are wailing.
We are all bearing witness to the dignity, worthiness and blessings of interdependence.