Sick & Tired

By Kersley Fitzgerald

I got a question a couple of weeks ago from a woman who was concerned about her son. He had married some time before and had a fulltime job. His wife stayed at home. But when he got off of work, he did all of the housework and the cooking while she "stayed on the couch and barked orders". This woman had talked to her son about the unfairness of it all, but he didn't see the problem. The mother wondered what she should do about her son's situation.

Our writer kindly told her to MYOB*.

This is the first question of its kind I've seen from a mother-in-law, but I've seen a few from husbands with less-than-industrious wives. They reference Scripture and pontificate about duty and the role of the woman. They have a point, even if their attitude is a little harsh. But here's another consideration: maybe she's sick.

As I write this, the editor of our children's website is in the hospital. Her fibromyalgia flared up a couple of weeks ago. It got so bad she had to move in with her parents so they could care for her toddler while her husband worked. Imagine pain so intense it hurts too much to lie in bed all day. I can't even fathom it. Hopefully, she's getting some relief. She's really cool and perfectly snarky to S.M.H....and we miss her.

Anyone who has ever seen that mystery diagnosis TV show knows that medical conditions can be difficult to nail down. And for some reason, women are especially plagued with doctors who don't believe them. (I'm thinking of a psychologist I just read about who believed birth pains were psychosomatic!) Another friend of mine, mother of five, swore she had fibro. Her doctor didn't believe her. Her husband didn't believe her. They thought she was just whining. After camping out at the Mayo Clinic for several days, she got in to see a specialist. He took her arm and looked at her elbow. "See that?" he asked my friend's husband, pointing at a small tremor in a ligament. "That's fibromyalgia. Your wife is sick."

When I was fourteen, I started getting tired. Not unusual. But I never regained my energy. It just got worse. For the most part, I was able to push through it and get stuff done. But there were times I couldn't even see straight. Eight years later, I started getting weird dizzy spells. The doc hooked me up to a heart monitor and found nothing. By my late twenties, I was out of the Air Force and didn't have a job, but I was so tired when Dev got home from his long shifts that often he'd have to make dinner. He never complained (about cooking or the state of the house!), but I felt horrible. Shortly after, we got JT, and, as parents know, I wasn't allowed to be tired.

The fatigue is crushing. It feels like your skin is pulling you down. The corners of my mouth drooped, making me look like a perennial sourpuss. Even scarier, the dizzy spells got worse. My sinuses behind my nose would vibrate, and the world would tilt. The episodes didn't last long, but I couldn't figure out what triggered them. Too much caffeine? Lack of sleep?

Finally, I got to see an ENT**. The man had the bedside manner of an eggplant, but he figured it out: allergies. It was all allergies. I went on shot therapy in addition to my regular antihistamines, and within a few months, I felt better than I had in years.

I went off shots six months ago, after three years. The fatigue's coming back. The dizzy spells have hit a couple of times. I'm lucky—I can go back to the doc and get back on shots. My friends with fibro and MS and Lupus don't have a lot of options.

What they do have—most of them—are understanding families. My friend down in Texas was diagnosed with MS when she was 19, but she's had symptoms since she was 11. Even in middle school, when the principal told her parents she was faking, her dad stood by her. She's in her mid-30s, now, and has lived with her mom for years. Going blind and so deaf she has to ask for headphones at a movie theater. But her mom's in it for the long hall. Likewise, our editor has a loving and giving husband and compassionate parents. And my uncle happily accepts my aunt's limitations, knowing decades of Lupus can take a lot out of a person.

"I don't look sick." That phrase gets kicked around a lot by people suffering from autoimmune disorders. And I don't look sick either. I don't have a runny nose or puffy eyes. But turn the lights on too bright, and my eyes burn. Right around two in the afternoon, I get really tired and grouchy (apologies to the Blogos editor who has to put up with me in the office!). Our children's editor doesn't look sick, but how does she explain to her 18-month-old daughter that she can't play right now? Or tell her mother-in-law that she can't cook or vacuum?

The Bible doesn't condone laziness, of course (Proverbs 13:4). We should all do what we can. But this is something for a new husband (or mother-in-law) to consider. Maybe it's not all in her head. Maybe the migraines are that bad or her joints do feel like they're on fire or she literally feels too heavy to get off the couch. I have great sympathy for the thousands of people who have suffered with a debilitating medical condition before it was recognized, and the same sympathy for those who are yet undiagnosed. Love is kind and gentle and understanding (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). Sometimes love cooks dinner, and sometimes love encourages someone else to get up off the couch. But sometimes the most loving thing we can do is make a doctor's appointment.

* MYOB = "Mind Your Own Business"
** ENT = Ear, Nose & Throat Specialist

Image Credit: Monceau; "I told you I was really sick!"; Creative Commons

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Published 12-28-12