I helped my mom around the house when I was a child. She was a single mother with four children – but no help and almost no support. We had chores we were expected to do and they were often tedious, as all chores can be. So, my sister and I made games out of them to make it more fun so we could help our mom out on a consistent basis. We did things like pretend we were in the military and did white glove inspections of each other’s portion of our room. I did my own laundry starting at the age of nine. I learned how to cook about that age and often did so on Saturdays so she could sleep in. My sister and I pored over recipe books and tried out new things – alone in the kitchen all the time at the age of 7 1/2 and 9. My mom put up a chart and she knew she could always count on me and my sister to get done what she asked of us.
I got my first job two weeks before I turned 16. I worked at a fast food restaurant throughout high school. My senior year, my mother and I got into a really big argument and she kicked me out of the house. I moved in with my boss, paid her rent, and worked about 38-40 hours a week while I finished high school. I then went on to college with no help or support whatsoever.
This is me. I work hard. I have always worked hard. I have had to work hard all my life just to survive emotionally and at times just to get by financially. Then my rheumatoid arthritis hit when I was 34 years old and completely tore my capacity to do this to bits.
I couldn’t walk up curbs. I couldn’t climb even a small gradient hill. I was out of breath from walking across the room. I hear people talk about their RA and describe bouts of inflammation or flares that may last for a week or a few days. My RA got a stranglehold on me so that I lived in a constant flare for over two years. It was never a matter of “if” I was in a flare, but rather how bad the flare was, how much pain I was in, and which area was swelling the most. I had to walk with a cane at times, and even did so when I worked as a cashier. I leaned the cane up against the register while I stood on that lovely 3” mat, growing stiff and sore and so achy that I had to take pain meds just to get through.
When RA hit me, I was the main breadwinner for the family – so my husband and kids wouldn’t eat if I didn’t work. We couldn’t pay bills, have a roof over our heads, or even buy shoes if I didn’t drag my exhausted, inflamed, and swollen body to work.
That’s when my house fell into disarray. I couldn’t stand at the sink long enough to do dishes. If I were there for 15 minutes it would throw my body into an intense flare that would make me couch bound and unable to do anything for a day. Grocery shopping took between 2-4 hours on a regular basis because I had to walk slowly and lean against the cart just to get through. I had to teach my two children, toddlers at the time, to climb up on the couch or my chair just to get onto my lap so I could hug them. Picking them up was an impossibility. There were times I couldn’t undress myself after work and stood there crying and cringing as my husband helped to peel the clothes off my achy flesh. Several times he had to pick me up and put me in bed because I just couldn’t get there. Every day was an indescribable and overwhelming struggle that I fought hard to get through.
And so the branding began by my husband’s family. I was lazy. I was a slob. My house was dirty.
And I was told all kinds of crazy things. If I were in a bad flare and had to sit down, I could at least be running a vacuum cleaner at the same time so that for once I would be doing something. Cleaning isn’t that hard, and I just needed to try harder.
There was no attempt to help. They didn’t come over. I was told an aunt and her clan had really bad allergies and didn’t want to step foot in my house that was unclean and filled with dog hair. Then they surprised us and stopped by and literally stuck their noses in the air. They didn’t even try to hide their disgust. I was told that I needed to keep my house a secret because if CPS (Child Protective Services) saw how dirty it was that we would have the children taken from us in a heartbeat. I was lectured about doing a little bit at a time so that we didn’t have to do too much all at once and it wouldn’t be overwhelming. I was pushed, lectured and looked down upon. They whispered behind my back, gossiped and tore me to shreds in my absence.
This happened four years ago and they still don’t understand. They are still unkind and they still think of me as lazy, despite the fact that I have provided for my husband and his two young children that I have raised as my own, gladly and wholeheartedly. I push every day to have better for us. In addition to working, I went back to school and I am six months away from getting my Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology. I have applied for job after job after job in the hopes of making more money and providing a better quality of life for us. I love my husband. I love my kids. I don’t regret any of this for a second. I would do it all over again and gladly.
But, lazy? Really?