Anyone who follows me on Instagram (@life_a.s_erin) has seen me posting recently about having pain in my wrists and elbows, and my trials with Prednisone. I’ve been trying to really rest and give my joints a chance to heal, so I’ve been a little MIA from my blog.
Since the #100outof100 hashtag has gone viral on my social media feeds, I’ve wanted to share my thoughts, but have also been hesitant for fear that I’m “not sick enough” to have a valid opinion on the topic…but then I realized that if I felt impacted by these comments, why wouldn’t I be in a position to have an opinion on them?
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, on a recent episode of his show, Dr. Phil told an able-bodied woman dating a disabled man that she “can be his lover or [she] can be his caregiver, but [she] can’t be both…It won’t work, 100 out of 100 times [it] won’t work.”
Since then, my Instagram feed has been full of beautiful couples posting to prove Dr. Phil wrong, and showing that you don’t have to choose between loving your partner and caring for them. While most of these posts depict couples where one partner is in a wheelchair, we all know that disabilities don’t all look the same. This movement touches far beyond those whom Dr. Phil was directly speaking to, myself included.
If you look at me you would never know that I have any sort of physical ailments, or that I face a future where varied levels of disability are a reality- but I do, and Dr. Phil’s comment struck me in a special way because of it. My husband and I were married in September, and have been together for almost 8 years. He’s been with me since before the effects of my chronic illness ever began. He was with me throughout my diagnosis, and has been by my side every step of the way since then.
When I was first diagnosed, and before I knew how my body would react to medications, I thought he might run. There was a part of me that thought he should run.
Why would you want to stay with someone whose future health and physical ability is so unknown, and could be so hindered?
Why would you choose someone who may not be able to always live the active lifestyle that you love?
I was afraid, and fear can do a lot of things- cloud your judgement, manipulate your emotions, and make you forget what really is important.
I had temporarily forgotten what it meant to love someone.
I had temporarily forgotten that I was not defined by my diagnosis.
I had temporarily forgotten how important it is to first for foremost, love myself.
I will always remember my husband telling me that as long as I never gave up, he’d always be there to love and support me.
This is where I sympathize with the woman on Dr. Phil’s show, and could see how, in her specific instance, their relationship would not work. But it was not because she was his caregiver, it was because he had given up. He is not happy in his life and has no love for himself, and without loving yourself and your own life, how can you ever give that love to someone else?
It breaks my heart to think of those who are newly facing disabilities and illnesses, and are presumably just as scared as I was. Their judgement is clouded, and now they are also worried about their future loves and relationships because of an ignorant comment made by a television doctor. In the situation portrayed on the show caregiving was not actually the sole downfall of the relationship, Dr. Phil’s choice of words sure made it sound that way.
I wish that I could tell all of these people that they are so, so worthy of love, and to never let anyone make them feel that just because they need help or care, their relationships are sure to fail. As long as you love yourself, you will find someone who will reciprocate that love.
Caregiving means something different for everyone.
Is my husband my caregiver if he comes to appointments with me? Helps me get dressed or get to bed when I’m in too much pain to walk on my own? Makes sure I take medicine when I need to? Is a shoulder to cry on when I don’t know what else to do?
By definition, yes, he is often my caregiver.
But what about when I make him dinner, or do his laundry? Or when I make sure he takes medicine when he gets sick?
Sometimes I require a little more care than he does, but we made a choice to be together and to always support and care for one another, and for as long as we both stay true to those promises, and always remember our own self-worth, caregiving will never cause our relationship to fail.
If the “disabled” person within the relationship has given up their motivation for independence or self-sufficiency, and has no desire to enjoy their life and live it to the fullest, then sure- I agree with Dr. Phil…it probably won’t work. But if that’s the case, Dr. Phil shouldn’t be making the issue the disability, but rather the lack of love his guest has for himself.
If, rather than saying she “can be his lover or [she] can be his caregiver, but [she] can’t be both…It won’t work, 100 out of 100 times [it] won’t work,” he had said that “she can be his lover and his caregiver, but not if he doesn’t love himself and recognize his own self-worth…if he doesn’t love himself, 100 out of 100 times it won’t work,” I would have completely agreed with him.
How many people who require a little extra care do you actually know where this is their reality? When I look at the chronic illness community I see a group of warriors, empowering and motivating each other to live their best lives every day; apparently Dr. Phil is only looking at the people who fit his stereotype.
We all have bad days, and we all have to ask for help sometimes. Every relationship requires some amount of caregiving, regardless of the “abledness” of the participants. I know that it’s ok to need help (as hard as it sometimes is to ask for it), and it’s ok to have days where I struggle to see how things can get better, but doesn’t everyone have those days, chronic illness or not?
No matter my ability or disability level, or the amount of care or help I may need, I know that as long as I love myself, my life, and my husband, everything else will be ok, and really, I think that’s all you can ask for from any relationship, isn’t it?