Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Toddler on My Hip - an Explanation of Life With a Chronic Illness or Disability.

Having a chronic illness or indeed any other disease or disorder that affects your life is a lot like having a toddler attached to your hip - and a bad tempered one at that.

You’re just going along, happily living your life and then bam congratulations you have Chronic Pain/CRPS/ME/Fibromyalgia/Lupus/Bipolar Disorder/any other relevant thing and the toddler that is Chronic Pain attaches itself to your hip. This toddler (we shall call him Henry because “the toddler” doesn’t sound right) just like any toddler needs to be fed, you need to make sure he has plenty to drink, you need to need to check if he’s filled his nappy.
If you forget to feed him, Henry will cry and become grumpier than usual and throw a tantrum because his stomach aches, Henry can’t tell you he’s hungry, he’s just a toddler he doesn’t know how. If you don’t give Henry a drink when he is thirsty he’ll cry and get more grumpy than normal, and he’ll throw a tantrum because he’s throat is dry and he’s getting a headache. Henry can’t tell you he’s thirsty, he’s just a toddler he doesn’t know how. Henry wears nappies. He doesn’t have control over is bowel and bladder, he just goes when he feels the need. You have to check if he needs is nappy changed. Otherwise he’ll cry and get more grumpy than normal, and he’ll throw a tantrum because his bum is sore.  He can’t tell you he needs his nappy changing, he’s just a toddler. 

Are you seeing where I’m going with this? You are solely responsible for the care of Henry. You have no time to adjust; once the child is given to you, you have to look after him from that moment on. There’s no going back. You didn’t ask for him, you didn’t even know you were going to get him. One minute you’re normal, healthy, young, free, single, you have endless possibilities - the next you have a child constantly weighting you down. The child is yours and you have to deal with it. Henry (or what ever your child’s name is) is attached to your hip swinging on it from that moment on. Everyday you now have to carry around this temperamental child who swings around on your body constantly pulling you off balance. Constantly forcing you to re-adjust.

So you feed him, you give him drinks, make sure his nappy is never dirty for too long. Anything to stop him from getting upset. Because when Henry gets upset he makes life hell. He kicks up a storm in these tantrums. His arms and legs flailing everywhere. All the while still hanging from your hip; the bruises and muscle damage you receive from it is just collateral, Henry doesn’t care he just wants his own way.

But sometimes, sometimes Henry gets upset for no reason at all. They’re the worst tantrums. He hits twice as hard, and is resistant to everything you do. These ones you just have to sit it out and hope the damage isn’t too great.
So when you've picked yourself up from the tantrum (something which is incredibly difficult to do) you have to brace yourself for what happens next. It happens with all toddlers - growing. Yes it grows, as if being lumbered with a toddler to carry around wasn’t enough the toddler grows. The growth might be steady or he might shoot up 6 inches in the space of a month. You never know. He grows bigger and bigger and stronger, never relinquishing is hold on your hip swinging all the time. Into a child, a teen and eventually an adult. There’s nothing you can do about it. This is what happens over time. Things which are living grow.
Except the differences is, with most toddlers , when they grow they become more emotionally mature, less volatile. They learn how to handle themselves. Not yours. He’ll still throw a tantrum at every opportunity.  And he still needs you feed him and give him drinks and make sure he’s toileted properly. He’s just bigger, heavier, more clever - more cunning. Oh and brings friends round to play swinging off you too.

But yes, Henry is clever. He knows what you’re doing, he knows your weaknesses, he knows what’s important to you; he knows everything you know. And Henry, Henry is vindictive just when you have something important or exciting or something you really want to do coming up he’ll fly off the handle and force you to abandon (or at least adapt) your plans.
Then Henry gets a girlfriend. And they get married. But instead of moving out to a home of their own Henry’s wife (lets call her Harriet) moves in with you. You, of course get no say in this. If you openly disagreed Henry would throw yet another tantrum. She attaches herself to you too. And all of a sudden you’re back at square one. You were just about coping with one adult bodied toddler but now you have two to look after. Things get harder. You have less energy. Less time to do anything, you just have to cope.  You have no time to adjust; once Henry moves his woman in, you have to look after them both from that moment on. There’s no going back. The woman is yours too and you have to deal with it. Harriet is also attached to your hip swinging on it from that moment on. Everyday you now have to carry around this pair of temperamental adults who swings around on your body constantly pulling you off balance. Constantly forcing you to re-adjust.

They have children. The cycle continues, until just about the whole of your body is completely covered in these toddler brained people. You’ve long since stopped trying to look after yourself, your only focus is to keep your “children” under control. Henry is still the biggest. Still the most volatile. He can still do you the most damage, but the others take their toll too.
It’s hard work. And it just keeps getting harder. But it’s not always so simple, because Henry, his friends and his family are part of you, albeit a part of you that you can’t control however much you fight to. Henry is always going to do what he wants.
Eventually you have to choose between nannying him constantly and living a semblance of a normal life. You have to choose do you tiptoe around his tantrums and become dependant on others for absolutely everything or do you do what you can and ask when for help when you need it. Yes it’ll be hard, yes you’ll still need to see to Henry’s basic needs but by ignoring hi the rest of the time you get some of your life back.
The first few weeks and months are the hardest, Henry will kick up a right fuss - but he’ll learn.  Eventually he stops screaming - realising it’ll get him no where, well that or you learn to block it out. It gets easier.
Henry, he’s still on your hip - he’ll probably be there for a long time yet, you just learn to handle him. It takes time to get a hang of and a good teacher is essential, but you can get your life back.

Thankyou for reading this - if you want to know more please contact me or read these:

The Spoon Theory - By Christine Miserandino. This essay explains what it’s like to live with severely limited energy reserves. Refer to this if you notice me saying things like “i’m out of spoons” or “I can’t do that I haven’t got enough spoons left” 
The Fork Theory - By Sue Marsh. This one tries to give the reader some understanding of what it is to be in pain constantly.
Your Boyfriend Doesn’t Have Ebola Probably - By Hyperbole and a Half. 

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