Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Painful (Naked) Truth

I don’t usually get very personal here. The truth is, I’m a pretty private person, especially when it comes to my pain.

I’m going to peel back the curtain a little now, though. Let me be straight with you. I’ve been struggling these past few months with situational depression. It has come and gone, some days are better than others. One moment, I’m the happiest little homemaker on the block, the next I feel like some kind of Cinderella/slave who is the scum of the earth. Talk about a roller coaster!

I’m learning a lot about myself and my God through this. Let me tell you – I am learning how NOT perfect I am, and how perfect HIS peace is. I’m learning how to trust God, how to cry out to Him and accept His grace. Who knew it would be so hard to accept a gift that is being given to you, right?

Here’s the thing. For months, the weight of Michael’s disability was just closing in on me. Like this giant, heavy, rough edged boulder on top of me all the time. I felt mad, sad, sorry for him, sorry for myself, jealous every time I saw a couple walking together hand in hand, or saw a guy pull up to the apartment building next to ours in a car to pick his girlfriend up, frustrated that there are so many responsibilities that fall on me (ridiculous things would make me cry, like taking out the trash), worried about our future, wondering if things were ever going to get better, wondering if I was ever going to stop feeling like my very existence was getting in the way.

Oy. Right?

I knew my emotions were out of control. I was concerned. Michael was concerned. I kept the issue pretty guarded, though, so not many others knew what I was going through (major mistake).

I started journaling my thoughts, fears, frustrations. Then… I realized something. I needed so badly just to figure out how I was feeling. I knew I was crying all the time, and I was overreacting to almost everything, but I couldn’t figure out why.

Then… it dawned on me. This disability feels like a 3rd person in our marriage. Me, Mike, and this wheelchair and everything associated with it. This 3rd person was not cool. He (I’m making it a boy for story’s sake) was seriously cramping our style! He’s slows us down, ruins our plans, and must be the center of attention. He’s heavy, and clunky, and doesn’t go with the natural flow. And he’s so demanding. And he’s always around. He has to be the first thing I deal with in the morning, the last thing I deal with before going to bed, and he never understands when we’re tired, or busy, or we just don’t want to deal with him. And he’s very particular. He must have things a certain way, so we always have to make sure the environment is acceptable to him before making plans. How annoying, right?

Before you send me e-mails about this rant: Yes, I knew what I was getting myself into. Duh. Michael was very open with me about his disability and his life and what all it entails. He was wise in letting me in on this stuff slowly, and believe me – I knew what I was getting into. And I was completely okay with it. Even viewed it as a sort of “blessing,” believe it or not. (I am actually almost back to that point now.)

Okay, back to that “3rd person. “ I tried to reason with him, that didn’t work. Tried to bargain, again, not negotiable. The thing about toting a 3rd person around that’s not really a 3rd person is…. You can’t relate to him, because he’s not really a him, he’s an it. So, I couldn’t sit him down and have a conversation with him, confess that I was getting jealous of him, and that I needed him to move aside every now and then, you know. But, sadly, the disability didn’t understand things from my perspective.

And, Mr. 3rd person was not going to change. I was going to have to change. Because the “3 of us” have to make this work. We’re all in this for life!

I needed a new perspective.

And not the kind of “well, at least we’re still alive” kind of “perspective.” Ask my husband, I hate “perspective.” I cringe when I hear someone compare themselves to someone else who is in a different situation and be like, “Well, look at them – it could be so much worse. At least we still have…. Blah, blah, blah… fill in the blank.”

I hate that kind of compare-yourself-to-someone-else “perspective.” Probably because I sleep next to perspective every night, and I wake up next to it every morning. Playing that game sucks for me. Because no matter how bad of a day it’s been for me, no matter how busy I’ve been, or how badly my feet hurt, or whatever, I’m still sleeping next to a guy who is paralyzed. And my paralyzed guy likely is going to bed with a smile on his face. And he’ll wake up with one. (Well, not really, that’s a stretch – Michael is a Mr. Positive/glass is half full kind of guy, but he is definitely not a morning person!) So, if I compare myself to that, I’m dead. I’ll never be able to compete with quadriplegia. No matter how many times I sneeze or wheeze, or I’m “exhausted” or I think I’ve just endured so much one day, or I’m facing so much the next day. That whole comparative perspective thing just doesn’t bode well for me, so I decided to quit that.

I’ve decided to just stick with finding “perspective” on my own. I’ll compare yesterday to today, or whatever. But I’m not going to make myself feel better or worse depending on somebody else’s situation. Not anymore. No thank you.

This month, though, I’ve felt a shift. I feel like I’ve turned a corner. Like I’m a slightly more in control of my emotions. I don’t feel nearly as invisible, or like I’m some kind of 2nd class citizen, or like I’m the most horrible person in the world if my husband wakes me up in the middle of the night because he needs to roll over. (I still do it, duh!) I’m not perfect. I’m not some kind of saint. I’m not an inspiration, or a “really strong person,” or whatever. I’m a complete mess, just like you. So, I’m “normal,” yay.

But, I’m coming clean about this. This has been PART of my reality over the last 6 months. It’s not everything (though at times it has felt that way). I haven’t been completely fake with you. There have been lots of excellent home made meals, super fun family trips, and my love for my husband still multiplies daily. I love my life, my job, my church, my family and my friends. I’m proud of so much. But, this is what it’s been like in the background.

So, there you go.

Oh – I wanted to share with you some of the things that have helped me come from darkness into light in all of this (so to speak).

1. From Garden to City. I’ve shared with you before that we are reading through the Bible this year with our church. We haven’t been perfect in following along. But we generally do read the Word together over breakfast each morning, and it has a tremendous impact. God’s Word is like that. It never fails.

2. Book – “Get Out of that Pit,” by Beth Moore. This book helped me to see that I could get out of this “pit” I was in. It didn’t matter how I got there, whether I put myself there, or I was thrown in, or what. That God’s deliverance is there for me to call on, and He is faithful and just!

3. Book – “When the Man you Love is Ill,” by Dr. Dorree Lynn and Florence Isaacs. I am reading this again for the 2nd time. The first time I read it like a novel, I couldn’t put it down! I was so encouraged to know that so many women feel what I feel in situations like this (not that my husband is “ill,” he’s not – he’s very well, in fact!) where you have to juggle being wife and caregiver. Some very practical tips too!

4. Song- “Your Hands,” by JJ Feller. This one really hits home for me right now. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried driving or in the shower, or whatever, listening to this song.

Now that I’ve completely spilled my guts to you – it’s only fitting to sign off with a picture of myself, sans makeup… just to make it official. So, there you go. Nothing left to hide. Cheers.


Kristen Maddux said...

Hey Dana,
I know Mike from Indian Rocks and I went to LU (YouthQuest too! ;0), but I don't THINK we've officially ever met?
ANY-way, I love reading this blog. You guys seem like such a great match!
I agree with you 100% on the whole "perspective" thing. Geez. All that does is make me feel worse that there are so many other hurting people.
Thanks so much for writing. God bless!

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Mike is a GREAT guy. You are a strong woman & I am so happy that you have each other!! I do not think that I would have the strength or will enough to take on what you have. You are awesome!! I love reading about your life together & the pictures are amazing!!

Dana Brown Ritter said...

Thank you for your support - it goes so much further than you even know!

Courtney said...

Hi there,
I just stumbled on your blog and I felt like I could be the one writing much of this post. My husband is a para. His injury was only 3 1/2 months ago so it is still very new. He has been home since early June and it is so hard. I am surrounded my wonderful people who love me and do sooo many things for me (meals, lawn mowing, etc. etc.) but it still feels so lonely sometimes. I even have a friend who is a para and has been since she was 18. We can both talk to her about anything but it is still so lonely. I miss so many things...and can't help it. Life changes in an instant.
I sound so bleak. We really are doing well, but, as you know, it is just hard.
I'm glad I found your blog. I have toyed with starting one as well (I had wanted to start a fashiony blog before) and got a lot of encouragement for that from my husband's caring bridge site. I decided if I do it could be interesting...I am a caregiver, a house manager, a PR girl, a normal girl and a fashionista (on a budget!). HA! If you ever want to e-mail me please do! My e-mail address is I am also on facebook as Courtney Russell Henry. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to get this out! :)