I have considered myself to be a private person, one that does not broadcast to the world my issues or troubles. I will often write about experiences or things that I have learned in life, but rarely do I become personal. I have been a proponent for the disabled the majority of my life, and especially for those who suffer in silence because their disability is not seen. In all these years, I never thought that I would end up being a person who is disabled, nor become one where their disability is not visible. I now understand what these individuals go through as I have become one of those who suffer in silence. With social media, many have begun telling their story of the remarks made by others when they park in a handicap space, or use a handicap cart in a store. I have been subjected to the many stares and looks, but never a comment (which may be due to my size). I have learned to ignore it over the years and not let it bother me, because God knows what I am going through, and it is only His opinion that I worry about. This is my personal story of what I have gone through, continue to go through, and the life I live as a normal looking individual on the outside, but one who has severe disabilities on the inside.
I am a person who has endured and survived cancer of the thyroid, throat and neck. I went through two surgeries and four radioactive therapies to get the cancer in remission. I also have rheumatoid arthritis, cervical spondylitis, ankylosing spondylitis, which have triggered fibromyalgia or chronic pain syndrome depending on the doctor you speak to. The spondylitis is where the tendons and ligaments surrounding the joints in my body are calcifying, causing nerves to become impinged resulting in neuropathy throughout my body, and ultimately the nerve will die as the bones grow and cut off their pathway. This result in loss of function of whatever body parts that particular nerve services. I have lost function in my right hand, arm, leg, foot and it is now working its way to my left side. In order to maintain some function, I have been through 7 separate surgeries to maintain mobility over the last 8 years.
I also deal with vocal cord paralysis, where one of the nerves of my vocal cords has been rendered non-functional, leaving me with only one vocal cord to speak with. It takes two vocal cords to make your voice work, but due to the grace of God, I have been able to maintain a soft voice, but am challenged daily to use it wisely as it is weak. This is why I do not speak in crowded rooms or restaurants. For me to be heard, I have to yell and strain my one cord, but the sound that comes out is that of a normal voice.
I also live with a metal brace in my neck that is there to keep my neck from collapsing due to the spondylitis. This brace causes severe limitations on my mobility and can be quite painful at times. It is stiff, restrictive and now has bone growth on it causing mobility problems.
The tendons in my right leg from my knee to my ankle have either been replaced with cadaver tendons or re-routed in order for me to be able to continue to walk due to the spondylitis. The spondylitis is affecting every joint within my body, and there is neither cure nor medication to stop it. The best thing a person can do who has spondylitis is to keep moving in order to not allow the tendons to begin to calcify, but that is a chore in itself when you throw rheumatoid arthritis on top.
I have become one of the many who suffer in silent. Whose disabilities are not visible, but affect every function of our daily life. For most people, sleep and bedtime are looked forward to because they are a time of rest. For me, it is a time of pain, turmoil, and misery. The pressure of my body lying on the bed will cause the neuropathy to appear in various parts of my body, and by morning, my body has become stiff and immovable. If I schedule an appointment for 9:00am, this requires that I am up by 5:30am in order to begin my stretching regimen to be able to be mobile enough to make the 9:00am appointment. If the appointment is more than 15 minutes away, I must schedule extra time to stop and get out to stretch and walk due to neuropathy setting up in the drive. I will lose feeling in my feet and arms as I drive, so a normal one hour trip to Chattanooga for me usually takes two and half hours. I know – I look just fine on the outside, so why do I need that handicap tag.
Living with chronic illness leads many people to depression and sense of hopelessness. For me, it has been the opposite. It has led me to my heavenly Father who keeps telling me, He is not done with me yet. According to the doctors, I was supposed to be in a wheelchair by 2013 and here it is 2016 and I am still walking, but that did not come by my sitting around feeling sorry for myself. It has taken every ounce of energy for me to fight each day, to get up, and live another day. I use an elliptical to exercise to keep me mobile, and in front of that elliptical are my walker and wheelchair. They are my reminder of where I once was, and where I could be if I gave up, but God did not create quitters, he created us to work, to run the race, to chase after the prize; the eternal prize of heaven. As I counsel those who have chronic illness, I am astonished at how many have quit the race and become hopeless. God told us that our bodies are not forever and warned us not to lose heart:
" Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
(2 Cor. 4:16- 18).
Our bodies may be deteriorating each day, but as we grow in Christ, our spirit is being renewed in the likeness of Him to become ready for our day in eternity.
As I end this story, my main point is to just remember that there are many who suffer in silence. We do not broadcast our illness to the world. We try to run the race daily, but sometimes we need a little help. Remember that not everyone is trying to cheat the system, and most of all, if you’re a Christian, remember to live as if the Holy Spirit lives in you, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 4:22-23). So as you go about your day, remember the words from Ephesians 4:31-32, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” When you see that person who looks normal, but displays that handicapped tag, don’t become judge and jury, let God do that. Just ask them how they are doing and if there is anything you can do to help them. I know it would be a blessing to them. May God bless all who read this and may you reach out to those who suffer in silence.