I am not the problem.

I am not someone who uses my disease as a “card.” And I am not someone who uses that card to feel entitled to special treatment. I believe, seemingly way more conservatively than many, that while certain accommodations are necessary for me, physically, I don’t feel my struggle is worse than someone with different problems that I’m lucky enough not to have.

With that said, on Tuesday night, I impulsively bought a ticket for a concert that was scheduled for the following evening. I do a lot of things impulsively (read: last minute) – mainly, I think, because I get so much anxiety about making plans too far in advance, in case I’m not well enough to attend when the actual date arrives. The concert was for a band that had been my favorite growing up, and I took it as a sign that less than 24-hours in advance, there were still seats available.

Many people who don’t face a life-consuming illness would think that was the end of the story. But for me, that’s where the stress began. Once the commitment to something has happened (especially commitment to something that I’ve paid money for), the planning process ensues. Thinking about navigating through the next day, I took a shower before bed, picked out an outfit that I could go from day to night with easily, put all of my potentially needed medications in my travel pill case, and planned to leave some things at work, so I wouldn’t have to carry them in tow.

I woke up feeling proud of myself. Proud to have challenged myself to step outside of my comfort zone, and proud that I put myself in a situation of readiness, so my anxiety, (while still present), wouldn’t completely overshadow my interest in going to the event at all. And as usual, as the day went on, I started having doubts, taking the cold weather into consideration, and the fact that yesterday was also my long day at work (a 10+ hour shift), but I swatted those thoughts away, reassuring myself that I had done my part.

So as the sky started getting dark, and my day was winding down, I started to feel like maybe I didn’t have to leave anything behind. Perhaps, if I consolidated my things well enough, I could bring everything with me to the concert and go home knowing I wasn’t without anything I might need. Innocently (read: stupidly), I went to the venue’s website to see if I could bring in my lunch bag. And as I scrolled to the bottom of the page, my heart sank when I landed on the following statement:

“No Drugs or Paraphernalia. (Prescriptions Drugs will not be allowed into the venue unless they are in a prescription bottle. The ID of the person holding the prescription must match the name on the bottle).”

First of all, let’s address the fact that “Drugs and Paraphernalia” are not the same as “prescription drugs”, nor is the connotation attached.

When thinking of the casual usage of “drugs”, especially next to the term, “paraphernalia”, we automatically think of something negative – drug addicts, drug abusers, and drugs that are illegal, used illegally, and possessed by someone who obtained them in a less than honorable way. However, when discussing prescriptions, or “prescription drugs”, as it’s stated on the website, the definition already explains that the drug is on a person who was prescribed to take them. And not just anyone can prescribe “prescription drugs.” Dog walkers can’t prescribe drugs. Bus drivers can’t prescribe drugs. Nor can circus clowns, accountants, or the girl who cuts your hair. Only a licensed medical professional is able to prescribe “prescription drugs”, which means there must be a good reason for doing so, other than “the patient wants to smuggle something into a concert venue.” Someone carrying prescription medications did not do anything wrong.

Next, let’s discuss the fact that I decided to be pro-active, because I was afraid I wouldn’t get into the show, and called the box office directly to ask about this “policy.” (I put policy in quotes, because I think it’s really nothing less than a scare-tactic, which I’ll explain later…). When talking to the numbnuts who answered the phone, he reiterated that the “policy” was true, and that it was enforced. After I explained that I am chronically ill, take many prescription medications every day to function, and that I don’t carry around 11 orange and white bottles to go with it because I’d need a sidecar to do so, the guy continued to repeat that the “policy” had no exceptions.

Because I’m me, I pushed back, which made the guy on the phone go talk to security. When he got back on the phone, the story was the same, except for the fact that now I was being told that I would “not be admitted into the concert with ANY pills on my person.” Woah, woah, woah. “‘Any’ pills?”, I asked? “Do you have doctors searching people at the entrance to the theater? Because I’m curious about how your security guards are qualified to determine whether or not the medications I’m carrying are over-the-counter or prescription.”

The guy on the phone continued to say, on repeat, “you will not be allowed into the theater with any pills that aren’t in a prescription bottle.” When I asked why it specified “prescription” on the website and if people carrying Tylenol were being sent away, he knew he had screwed up, and his method of avoiding it was to just stay committed to the phrase he had been using.

So I asked for my money back. I told the guy that I don’t ever use my medical condition as a button to push, but in this moment, I felt that I was being discriminated against, because nowhere during the ticket-purchasing process was I informed of this “policy.” The guy tried to defend this by saying it is “clearly” stated on the website, to which I replied, “when’s the last time you bought tickets for a concert and decided for ‘funzies’ to get check out the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ page? Also, I think it’s also probably very unlikely that someone who was carrying illegal drugs would call the music venue to ask for permission to bring them in.”

I’m just saying.

I continued to offer solutions, like bringing a copy of my medical records, or better yet, going to the pharmacy and getting printed proof for the prescriptions I was carrying. No dice for any of it. And obviously, I was told that they would not refund my ticket, so I got off the phone because I knew I wasn’t going to get through to this asshat.

Now, I’m staring at the clock, trying to figure out if I’ll be able to get home in time to get the pill bottle(s) and get back to the concert, and considering if it would even matter. “Would I feel safe enough to bring NO medications with me?” No. “Do I need more than one medication?” Yes. “Do I need to take a pill bottle for each RX?” Who the fuck knows? “If I decide to go the safe route and bring several bottles with me, will my bag then be too big to bring in without checking it, ultimately losing my access to my meds, anyway?” Probably.

As a last ditch effort, I called my regular Pharmacy and spoke to a Pharmacist that has been helping me for years. He felt badly about the situation, and even said that if I was closer to his store, he’d have made me a prescription bottle with my name on it to throw my pills into, but unfortunately, the store is on the block I live on, so I figured I might as well go get the real ones at that point.

After deciding that I wasn’t going to lose this fight (meaning, I was still going to go to the concert), I hauled my ass home in a cab (which I shouldn’t have had to pay for), quickly decided to take one pill bottle and risk throwing multiple meds in, changed my clothes, and ended up having to take the subway back to Times Square, because I knew I’d never make it in rush hour traffic. I rarely take the subway because of all of the walking/standing/stairs, but as a physically disabled person, I was unnecessarily inconvenienced further, because our country has no way to monitor the abuse of narcotics.

After trekking across the city underground, I ended up just barely getting to the concert on time, and when I showed up and told security that I couldn’t stand on the line waiting to enter, they moved me right in, which was helpful.

But this is where my issue got real.

I was taken through the red ropes to bypass the queue, and before entering the building, they asked that I show them my bag. (This was it. This was what the previous two hours would amount to.) I stood there, so pumped and so ready for them to see the medication bottle and to confirm that it was my name on the label. But as I expected, the man doing the check only opened one of the two zippered sections (the one that didn’t have my medication in it…), pointed his flashlight on the top of my purse, and said, “Have a good night.” I could have had a bag of weed or a handgun in my bag and they would have let me through.

And this is why I’m frustrated. Not only did I figure that the “policy” on the website was garbage, I was repeatedly told on the phone that I “would not be admitted in without the appropriate proof” of medications I need to function. I was able to walk up to a security guard and ask to cut a whole line of people without showing proof, so why in the world should I be questioned about pills in a pill case?

Do I understand that there is an opioid epidemic? Of course.

But I am not the problem.

A few years ago, when they started cracking down on the narcotic prescriptions, it was a horrible adjustment period for the chronically ill. My specialists no longer wanted to manage my pain, because they feared being audited by the FDA. I had to start seeing a pain-management specialist, which was another copay from my wallet.

When it came to actually filling my prescription, many drug companies pulled way back in the production of these medications, so I spent hours calling a bunch of different pharmacies in New York to see if they had the pain medication I was prescribed. To make matters worse, I often wasn’t able to get accurate information on these calls, because pharmacists would either give me shit for calling about a narcotic over the phone (making me seem like a drug seeker, because in that moment, I guess I technically was), or they would lie and say they didn’t have it because they didn’t feel comfortable giving out that information. As a physically disabled person, I had to run all over Manhattan, walking in and out of storefronts, showing them that I had the paper prescription (to prove that I was legit), and question whether or not they had enough to fill the script. The anxiety I would get every month was absolutely absurd.

When they mandated that controlled substance RXs could only be sent to pharmacies electronically, my anxiety about this heightened, because at least if I had the physical prescription and the pharmacy didn’t have the medication, I could go somewhere else. However, if an electronic prescription is sent to a pharmacy and they don’t have the drug, they can’t transfer the prescription anywhere else because it’s a controlled substance. You have to then go back to your doctor and beg him/her to send it to a different location.

It’s a viscous, viscous process.

So my final question is this: At what point will it be enough for me to just be sick? To have to wake up in pain every day? For me to have to figure out how to be a contributing member of society, working full-time in an effort to keep my medical insurance and pay for all of my medical bills, while also juggling several doctors’ appointments each week and acute issues that come up, like visits to the ER or recovering from monthly infusions? When will it be enough that I have to plan every second of every day unless I want to face failure? And plan it to the point where it often overshadows any fun I could possibly have, and often makes me not commit to anything at all?

Why, on top of my horrible misfortune, should I have to do a song and dance because people are abusing the system? I’ve always been transparent about my illness and I am never defensive about proving that I’m sick, because I have plenty to provide in the way of clinical documentation since I’m ACTUALLY sick. But when I get up the courage to commit to an event, spending money I should be spending on medical expenses, and then have to be put out and basically treated guilty until proven innocent for a disease that I am just trying to navigate through, it’s frankly, bullshit.

As a manager, I always tell staff and coworkers that if you have a problem, you should come to the table with a resolve. So I propose that maybe we create some kind of ID card or wristband system that says that we are diagnosed with an illness that requires us the following:

  • prescription meds
  • narcotics (if necessary)
  • accommodations (a seat, low lighting, dietary specifications, etc.)

We have handicap tags for the cars we drive, why can’t we have something on our person to do the same function? I don’t care if I have to hang a huge sign from my freaking ponytail; we just need to find a way to address the issue without harming those who are already suffering.

I am not the problem.

 

 

Fork Your Spoons.©

Hello from Chronic Motivation land.

I am here to tell you a story about my interpretation of the reaction to “The Spoon Theory”, and how I feel it applies to me (and doesn’t apply to me).

In an Instagram live chat I held on April 21st, 2017, I was discussing some of the content that chronic illness forums put out into the universe, with derivatives of “The Spoon Theory” being at the top of the list. For those of you who aren’t familiar, “The Spoon Theory” is an essay that was written by Christine Miserandino, in an effort to help one of her friends understand what it was like to live with Lupus.

To read “The Spoon Theory”, click here.

In abbreviated terms (this is paraphrased), it’s basically understood in the chronically ill community that spoons are used as an analogy for levels of energy, or units to be doled out for anything requiring exertion of any kind. It was basically created to help people who aren’t chronic illies to understand that there is a limit that we hit every day, that more or less becomes our “shutoff point.” Do not pass go, do not collect $200, head straight for bed (and don’t forget the ice cream and the remote).

The theory also does a really good job of explaining how different activities cost us in different ways, and that if there is something we are really determined to do (like go to Prom and dance the night away, for example…), we can “borrow” from tomorrow’s reserve, but we’ll pay for it, and ultimately be laid up in bed recovering from overdoing it the day before.

I have been sick for my entire life – 32 years – and it was only when I saw Instagram’s chronically ill community of accounts that I became acquainted with “The Spoon Theory”, “spoons” and “spoonies” (a name chronically ill individuals call themselves as a result of the theory). It blew my mind to see how many people, people who more often than not are so passionate about not being “defined by their illness”, would label themselves as something that so specifically defines them, and of all things, by their illness.

(Note: I feel like this is the appropriate place to say that, as mentioned above, I do appreciate the Spoon Theory. I think finding a way to articulate, quantify and qualify what we experience every day, in tangible terms, no less, is long overdue, and for me, feels right. I don’t want my thoughts proceeding this statement to come across as an attack on a piece of prose that is warranted for receiving a lot of positive attention. I do, however, have some concern about the way this document has impacted the stigmas surrounding chronic illness, but only as a result of getting into the hands of some bad apples.)

For me, the Spoon Theory is what I think it should be – it’s effective and to the point. Referring to “spoons” isn’t too far behind it as far as my interest-level is concerned, but it does start to make me feel a bit uncomfortable. Finally, referring to myself as a “spoonie” is not something I’m attracted to at all, and I’ll explain why.

As someone who has only ever been battling a debilitating rheumatologic disorder (Blau Syndrome), I have accepted that the life I was born into is the life I will be living until there’s no life left in me. I didn’t have a choice in the matter, but I also have had nothing else to compare to. For this reason, I’ve always said that I give a lot more credit to those who were diagnosed later in life (my definition of later = past the point of remembering not being sick), because they know what they are missing. For example, I will never be sad about not being able to run the same way a runner diagnosed with RA at 25 years old will be sad about not being able to run. Of course, there have been moments in my life where I’ve felt out of place because of my physical limits (field day in elementary school was a major one), but I’ve never sat at home longing for a function that I never had.

With that said, since this is the only life I’ve known, it is what feels normal to me. I know that on paper, compared to every other 32 year old on the planet, there is probably not much “normal” going on for me physically, but all that has ever mattered to me (and will hopefully ever matter to me) is that relatively speaking, I’m living a normal life. And I think that’s sort of the key point that makes me hesitate when starting to label myself as anything other than what I am – which in my case, a physically disabled young woman. I think what many people fail to understand, whether it’s a result of a denial, a need for attention, or otherwise, is that everything is relative for everyone. I might have an autoimmune disease that roughs up my life in some ways, but other people my age might have lost both of their parents in a car crash as a child, or maybe they are sorting out navigating through life as homosexuals, or better yet – maybe their sore point is the fact that they’ve been exposed to no hardships at all, and they are just shitty human beings because they don’t know how to appreciate things.

What I’m really trying to say is that we all go through something; none of it is fair, and not all of it is out in the open. There is also a lot of discussion on social media about how chronic illies live with “invisible illnesses”, but the last time I checked, many illnesses, whether chronic or not, are not seen (headaches, stomach bugs, pulled muscles, etc.), and when walking through the streets of Manhattan, I’ve never seen “I just lost my job” or “I got an eviction notice” stamped across anyone’s forehead, either. There is nothing special or unique about being chronically ill – what makes chronically ill people special or unique has nothing to do with the chronically ill part at all… we are just another group of people, like any other group of people, facing a hardship, which in this case, manifests for us in a physically detrimental way.

It’s funny, because as I’m playing these typed words back into my head, it doesn’t sound like someone who is painfully struggling has written this at all – and that’s exactly what my intention is. I will not start using cutesy words like “spoons” to describe something that isn’t cute at all, and I will certainly not refer to myself as a “spoonie”,  since frankly, I think it’s a word that has become epidemically used and in many cases, abused. Because again, for a group of people who advocates so much to try to be seen as equals and not “disabled,” why would we go out of our ways to highlight the fact that we are different than the rest of the socially accepted population?

And this is when I say: “Fork your spoons.” ©

I don’t mean for that to sound aggressive, and again, I am not trying to discount or discredit the Spoon Theory in any way. I mean for that statement to be empowering, and to motivate the chronically ill population to really accept and appreciate their lives for what they are. We can’t sit here and denounce that we’re different, and then go to great lengths to identify ourselves as such. I say we be exactly who we are: chronically ill. I am a sick person. I am defined by my illness. I am physically disabled. These are just words, and words that, in my case, represent facts.

When I say I am a sick person, it’s because that’s exactly what I am. I am a person who is sick. Every second of every day. There are days I feel better than others, but even on good days, I am medically compromised. My autoimmune condition is always inside me, ready to fight, and just when I think it’s under control, it rears it’s ugly head. Knowing that, alone, humbles me constantly, because I know what a good day looks like, and when it’s happening, I savor it and pray to God it never goes away.

When I say my illness defines me, I’m saying it shapes me. It makes me a better person. My illness has made me tough, articulate, passionate, and wise. I am able to read people well, I matured at lightening speed, and I am more independent than anybody I know. I am so grateful for these character traits that I sometimes wonder if when people get upset by the idea of being “defined by” their condition (but label themselves as “spoonies”), they might not have fully come to terms with or accepted the fact that this is their permanent situation. Because once that epiphany presents itself, it isn’t hard to see the positives at all.

When I say I’m physically disabled, I’m saying I have physical limitations. Again, as someone who has truly accepted my fate, I am not afraid to use words that sound scary if they represent the truth. There are things that I know I just can’t do, and I’m OK with that. I’m sure there are things I think I can’t do that if I cared enough about, I’d do them, but I feel satisfied with that list at this moment. It’s not about a lack of confidence or downing myself, it’s about understanding what is actually within my reach, and not holding myself accountable for the things that aren’t. If there’s anything I’ve ever wanted to do badly enough, I’ve done it, regardless of my setbacks in mobility. This part of my life is what gives me drive and determination, and as a result, I know what hard work and perseverance look like.

The reason I’m explaining all of this today is because a) I am a passionate person, and b) I wanted to express my thoughts in a way that was thorough and representative of the entire picture. My experience utilizing social media to advocate for others suffering has been overwhelming, and not always in a good way. I am vulnerable and open about what my experience has been as a patient, but I also want to be clear in saying that I have, at times, been disheartened by the misrepresentation of how strong chronically ill people really are.

We are tough cookies, stronger than your average bear, feisty, brave and resilient. We’ve been through a lot, but the ones who have the best handle on it also know that we’re blessed with a lot. (And if there are some out there who haven’t reached that point yet, I hope it comes for them soon). We live our lives on purpose, with meaning, full of zest, and with the intention to do as much good as possible. We don’t need to feel validated by others, because we know the darkness that we keep locked away for no one to see. And the only attention we ever want, is not the kind that feels pity for our differences.

It’s the kind that celebrates them.

© Becky Lewand