I have been sick for 23 years — longer if you count all the years I was symptomatic and didn’t realize there was an underlying issue. The fact that my illness is degenerative and incurable is almost beside the point now. I have gone from a young woman who couldn’t wear contact lenses and got swollen cheeks every now and then to a woman in her 50s who needs to lie down on a daily basis to take pressure off her back (which has been fractured several times) and joints (which swell painfully with just normal use).
Since my disease is degenerative, it will get progressively worse and my physical abilities will become less and less over the years. I take medicine to slow the progression of my disease as well as try to eat better and stay active, but in the long run, I have to make smart choices that work for my current abilities and will also not contribute to injuring my joints any further.
What exactly does that mean? For one thing, it means I cannot lift. My limit is 10 pounds, which is not much. Three of my four cats weigh more than that! Most vacuum cleaners are way off limits, and if you are going up or down stairs, they seem so much heavier. My first fracture happened while bending over to pick up an empty bottle. (I know, I wish it were a cooler story too!) I can’t even describe how much of house cleaning involves bending over. I am over 6 feet tall, so I have to bend just to do the dishes in the sink, much less load a dishwasher. And doing laundry is just agony as the dryer is so low.
Besides my back, my disease also attacks my other joints at random. I have no strength in my hands or wrists anymore, so I cannot scrub. And we all know how much of house cleaning is scrubbing. I haven’t been able to scrub for a while, but I keep trying; if we have no dishes, we can’t eat. Without pots and pans, we can’t cook. The reality of the situation is that doing one load of dishes is extremely painful, especially if those dishes have been left sitting.
But dishes are not the worst of it. Bathrooms are. Tubs, shower stalls, toilets: all require intense scrubbing. I used to be able to scrub the hell out of them. I even scrubbed the floors on my hands and knees. Now I get bruises just kneeling on a carpet. So I finally asked for help.
“Why not from your family?” you may ask. Two reasons.
- My husband and son work. A lot. And they are already doing extra work around here helping me with cooking, shopping and laundry.
- They are not sick, so they don’t understand the urgency I feel when I want it done. They will do things in their time, which may be in a day or may be in several weeks.
It amounts to more anxiety and depression because I know what I want but I can’t do it or finish it, so I end up having to stare at it or nag people until it gets done. I hate reminding my family that I am sick and hurting, and I shouldn’t have to.
It’s my house and I want it taken care of in a certain way. And I have that right. Even though I have been fighting against asking for help, I need it. Yes, my family does a lot to help me, but they can’t do everything. And do I really have the right to expect them to? Especially if there’s a certain way I want things done and a certain time frame I want it done within.
I know not everyone with a chronic illness can afford to hire a helper, but today I could and I did. My bathrooms needed it — seriously, embarrassingly needed it. So I hired a professional, a friend — and I will probably do so again, much to the dismay of my family. But in reality, it takes pressure off of them too by allowing them down time instead of spending excess hours “working” at home. It also ensures I won’t try to do something I shouldn’t and potentially hurt myself — which I do. A lot.
My decision to ask for and accept help to clean my house is mine alone, and no one has the right to make me feel bad about it — not friends and not family. If you are chronically ill or in chronic pain that interferes with keeping your house to a point of cleanliness you prefer, no one has the right to judge you for needing help. If you want to hire someone to help, go for it! It’s your decision and yours alone.