Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's Okay To Go Home

A required course for all students pursuing their masters in social work is called Human Behavior & The Social Environment (shortened to HBSE, thankfully.). HBSE looks at  individuals throughout their life course trajectory. How are people influenced by their environment and, simultaneously, how do they influence their environment ? What stressors do they face and how might this change over time? What factors contribute to resilience? As the semester wears on, I find myself relating these concepts to my own life. Although I've lived with Spondylitis since I was a little girl, it's safe to say that the past few months have been the hardest time of my life. HBSE got me thinking... how has illness impacted my development and how is being chronically ill at age 24 different than other points in my life? 

In our society and especially given the current job climate, more and more new college graduates are moving back in with their families until they can get on their feet. Before moving into the city, I was no exception. It just so happens that my parents are my best buds, so that situation worked out nicely. My brother, sister-in-law, aunt, uncle, cousin, and grandparents all live in the area too, so after living far away for years, it was great to be home.  I'm truly blessed to say that home is and always has been a warm place to run back to. 

While reading a HBSE article last week about human relationships and attachment, this line stuck out: "The most primary human needs is to have a secure emotional connection—an attachment—with those who are closest to us: our parents, children, lovers, and partners..." I'd definitely agree with that.
The article went on to discuss how fear and uncertainty in a person's life can affect attachment: 
"When the individual is threatened, whether by traumatic events, by the negative aspects of everyday life such as illness, or by an assault on the security of the attachment bond itself, powerful affect arises, attachment needs for comfort and connection become particularly salient and compelling, and attachment behaviors, such as proximity seeking, are activated. A sense of connection with a loved one is a primary inbuilt emotional regulation device. Attachment to key others is our "primary protection against feelings of helplessness and meaninglessness" (McFarlane Sc van der Kolk, 1996, p. 24).  Makes sense, right? There's a reason we all just want our mommies when we're at our sickest.

Living with chronic illness at any age is unnatural, but at 24 the stakes feel somehow higher. Life is moving on and I'm aware that achieving true independence from my parents is common and expected at this stage. However, the unpredictability of chronic illness really complicates things. This is why - after living on my own in different states, different countries, and a New York city apartment for the past year - I've been going back home more than ever. When I couldn't stand up or walk on my own, my parents provided me with this physical assistance. Emotionally, they've been  there every step of the way: checking in constantly, listening to my fears, and helping me stay hopeful. Financially, let's just say they've helped with everything. They say they're more than happy to do all of it and I'm infinitely grateful. I know I've got the best parents out there.

I also know that I've spent too much time feeling guilty about needing this help and comparing myself to other people my age. I am not like everyone my age and I've learned to accept that I need my family a bit more right now. It will all come full circle and, at some point, I know I'll be there for them (gladly). As it stands, I need to stay near my support network because I've come to understand the fragility of my's also where I'm happiest. Especially when our lives have been turned upside down, it's normal to crave attachment, safety and reassurance from the people who mean the most. In fact, it's almost instinctual.

I thought I understood my disease and was confident that, even if there were unpredictable cycles, I could handle it. In a strange way, part of me is grateful that I experienced the full effects of Spondylitis. It was a harsh, but important dose of reality; the experience begged me to slow down and understand what I'd be up against in my life. It forced me to accept that I am sick, learn to care for myself entirely, and trust in the people who love me. Now I see that I'll always be learning how to live with chronic illness and, just as I'm faced with unique challenges at 24, I'll continue to encounter new hurdles as I grow and change. We all will. Undoubtedly, I'll find new aspects of my life affected by illness and hopefully I'll gain more and more wisdom that will help me cope. 

I pray that, with the help of my loved ones, I'll continue to learn from everything - the good, the bad and the ugly. I pray that I'll always find the strength...and I wish the same for all of you. 




  1. Chronic pain/illness at any age but is especially difficult to swallow the younger the person. I've been at this for 10 plus years now. I'm in the middle of my life now but it stole some time from me that can not be captured back no matter how much I wish it to be. If not for the love of my family and friends, some days I could hardly see the light at the end of the tiny tunnel. You are right to lean and ask for help when needed. Take comfort on bad days knowing it's there for you. Well written and thank you for sharing. Hugs. tammy

  2. Hi Tammy: Thank you for sharing a bit of your story with me - what is the nature of your pain? I think it's normal and natural to feel like we've been cheated out of some time (I've already felt that way at 24). I'm trying, though, to see each of those days as purposeful nowadays. I'm glad that you have the kind of support system I do - it means the world and I wish everyone living with illness could say the same. Thank you so much for writing and I hope to connect with you again soon. Hugs right back xox

  3. You are so amazing, and have a wonderful family to be so supportive.

    I am 32 and have only been diagnosed for about 18 months, but have had symptoms off and on as long as I can remember. So it has been a new concept for my family to grasp. Even my husband gets frustrated sometimes when I can't do things that I used to.

  4. Maya, you always amaze me.

    I think one thing I have learned from having RA is that people really want to help and while we are often trying to be strong and independent, we don't allow others to fill their need to help. As a mother I can definitely say that in the same situation, it would fill me with great pleasure to know that I am helping my child, no matter what the age. Good for you and your parents! Big hugs friend.