Family + Chronic Illness
Family. Everyone's family is unique. You have the big ones, the small ones, the close ones and the distant ones. There are also the loud and crazy families and the dysfunctional families. Then there is my family. My large, loud, loving African family. If you've read my previous blog posts, then you're aware that my family is from Sierra Leone, West Africa. My parents and many of their siblings came to the United States in the 1970s. They settled here and raised their children here. When my parents had me in 1990, I'm sure that they never imagined that their big-eyed, bouncing baby girl would develop a chronic illness. When I was diagnosed at 21, my family had difficulty accepting it. I mean no one wants to accept that their loved one is ill but I think that they also felt blindsided. No one on either side of my family had ever had multiple sclerosis (at least no one that we knew of) so it was definitely a hard pill to swallow. My family is filled with different personalities so let's just say everyone swallowed that pill differently and I can even think of a few that haven't swallowed it at all. I've received various reactions from family memberS since my diagnosis. Some good, some bad, some wacky. I just try my best to remember that most of it comes from a good place.
1. THE DOUBTERS - "That can't be what you have! You all need to get more opinions."
Doubters' responses mean a lot of different things to me. What I observe about them most is DENIAL. They have trouble accepting your diagnosis so they try to convince you that it is some sort of mistake. The doubters will introduce so many new theories and conclusions that you'll think they earned a medical degree when you weren't looking. Wellllllllllllllll. THEY DIDN'T AND THEY'RE WRONG. In my head, I'm saying, "Listen, I'm about five years into this thing and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere any time soon. My test results still look the same and my doctors haven't found any other abnormalities. DEAL WITH IT!" However, as much as I would love to say that, I can't. It was a process for me to accept my illness and it is also a process for them. As annoying as it may be, their denial may be their only way of coping.
2. THE PRAYER WARRIORS - "By the stripes of Jesus, you are healed!"
The prayer warriors can come in two forms. The first type are the ones who offer spiritual guidance and want to help you through illness using the Word of God. Then, there is the other type. The type that says you don't need medication and tests. The type that truly wants you to believe that God is going to rid you of all illness because they said so. While I am a very spiritual person, I know that MS isn't going to disappear and I also know that I cannot rely on prayer alone to be healthy. The prayer warriors can be a difficult bunch to deal with because they have a way of testing your beliefs. I'm happy to soak up your anointing oil and cry as you pray for me but I also need my medication and my doctor. God is the one who gave them the knowledge anyway, right?
3. THE CONSTANT REMINDERS - "Take it easy now, your condition"
I know. I speak on this in so many posts but only because it happens so much. These family members that are sometimes frightened by the amount of energy I have and my social life. It's definitely understandable. They don't want me to hurt myself, get to exhausted or end of back in the hospital. They don't mean to but they often serve as walking reminders of my illness. "Be careful now!" "Don't stress yourself!" I know that it comes from a place of love but I'M ONLY GOING TO A COOKOUT! UGH! I have a hard time interacting with these family members mainly because I don't want them to notice how irritated their reminders make me. I just pray that one day they'll understand that I'm just trying to be normal and their fear isn't going to stop me from doing that.
4. THE REGULARS
My favorites. The group of family members that has treated me the same before and after MS made its debut in my life. We talk, laugh, argue, dance and cry the same way in 2017 that we did years ago. They are also constant reminders. Reminders of my strength and my undying spirit. They stayed the same and in doing that, they also empowered me.
Some family members fit into two or more of these groups while others go through stages as they come to terms with your illness. At the end of the day, family will be family. Everyone will handle things in their own way no matter what you do or feel. Just remember that THEY LOVE YOU.
UNTIL NEXT TIME