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Chronic Disease: The Chip on My Shoulder

It can be difficult to be forced to rely upon the kindness of strangers

When we left the beach, a different group appeared as the traveling triage squad. My right foot had grown so weak that one fellow walked directly behind me and physically lifted my right foot each time I went to take a step on it. We had become a traveling road show. The guys saw us to our car and would accept no money. They were only acting as good people.

The chip almost fell off my shoulder that afternoon. I say “almost” because I still am trying to understand why the generous spirit showed itself then and there.  The answer may be that people like me stumble down the streets of cities and towns all the time, adamantly struggling to make it on our own. Usually we succeed and do not appear to be in any particular need. On the beach, my struggle was obvious.

On buses and trains, I offer my seat to anyone who appears to be in worse shape than I, and always to seniors. They eye my cane and I tell them it is only a prop. They smile and take my seat. When another offers me a seat, I decline, for reasons I am hard-pressed to explain. Maybe the idea of accepting the seat of another makes me feel weak.

And then I complain.

Anger at an illness is conveniently transferred to people. Other human beings become useful targets for playing out the tough emotions we feel as victims, though most despise that word. The challenge is to bypass the victim mentality and to see and believe in all that is good in our lives. We should not need whipping boys to indulge our frustrations. Our broken bodies do not define us. We should toughen up and leave others alone. Help from another is great, benign neglect acceptable.

Also of interest: 6 ways to feel happy — and healthy.

Emmy-winning TV producer and author Richard Cohen has lived with multiple sclerosis for more than 30 years. He writes bi-weekly about living a full life with a chronic disease.

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