One Year, Three Lessons

(Courtesy: Des Moines Art Center)

One year ago this week, I was diagnosed with advanced-stage diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is a condition where the blood vessels around the retina of your eyes began to swell and leak blood, causing severe vision impairment. If not treated immediately, it leads to blindness. There is no cure for retinopathy, only medicinal and laser procedures is used for treatment.

The cause of retinopathy is uncontrollable diabetes. Diabetes, if not treated, will lead to severe and deadly results, like amputation, kidney failure, heart failure, to name a few.

For the record, I spent three years without medical care, because I had no insurance. When you are one of many millions of Americans who were unemployed due to the recession, you end up taking your life in your own hands…and putting it in risk.

Over the past year, through treatment and adjusting to a new “normal”, I looked back at what I have learned from this experience and what lessons I continue to learn.

#1: It will never be “normal”

What I find fascinating (and disappointing) is that people assume that you will return to normal with treatment, and that treatment is simple. Try telling that to a cancer patient. Chemotherapy is no simple treatment.

Neither is having a syringe injecting medicine in both of your eyes, and two rounds of laser every month.

There is no such thing as returning to “normal.”

My eyes are not the only thing I have to deal with.

Diabetes does more than cause vision impairment and blindness. It causes nerve damage in the legs and hands, kidney dysfunction, and cardiovascular damage. I have vascular damage in my legs, which makes it painful to walk, and neuropathy in my right foot (tingling and numbness). I have to adjust and adapt to deal with the physical challenges.

#2:Avoidance of “ugly stuff”

My generation (Generation X) and Millennials have a lot of work to do when it comes to active listening, empathy, and support. It’s easy to say we care, but we tend to selectively choose what we want to care or hear about. I catch myself when I answer “I’m doing okay” when someone asks how I’m doing.

I shouldn’t lie about how I feel, but I feel compelled to, because Xers and Millennials feel uneasy about uncomfortable news.

217We need to invite people to ask for help and embrace them to open up about what they are dealing with, physically, emotionally, mentally, et cetera. We have to be willing to listen and endure things that makes us uncomfortable and vulnerable.

A classmate and friend, Sarah Albertson Corkery, wrote the following on her Facebook page not too long ago:

A year ago, I found out that I had a stage 0 breast cancer. Here is part of an e-mail to a group of friends I sent in October following my surgery:

It’s not been easy to learn to ask for help–but I would highly recommend learning how. What I’ve learned is that none of us has it easy. And we all need a little help. And it’s too easy to only share the highlight reel. I’ll tell you from sharing the highlight reel to sharing the crap reel, when you share the crap reel, something big happens. It allows people to show their compassion and to find their own gifts to help you. I feel a bit cheese-ball writing this, but I think it’s important. Please remember to share your crap reel with me or others. It’s what allows miracles to happen all around.

I am uncomfortable (and ashamed) to ask for help. There have been moments in my life where I asked for help, and sometimes that help didn’t come or I was let down. I do want to talk about some of the tough stuff I’ve endured (living with diabetes), but I have this fear that if no one is interested in hearing my story and my life, then it must not be important.

If that is the case, then I’m seeking the wrong people to reach out to.

I need to seek out and connect with people who want to help, support, and understand. And, I need to let them “in”.

#3: Pace Yourself

I’m not old. I’m 37. But physically, I tired out quickly. The physical challenges I mentioned earlier has forced me to slow down and not try to shove a square peg into a round hole. I can’t go up a flight of stairs without feeling excruciating pain in my right leg. I have to cut down the long walks I loved taking on most days. It’s embedded into men to hide pain and discomfort, for fear of being exposed as anything less than a man. Sooner or later, all of us are going to be a step slower, give up some restraints, and pace ourselves in a manner that will best suit us.

The past 12 months have been tough for this straight-laced person. According to my horoscope (if you believe things like that), Capricorns are by nature quiet and timid, and keep their feelings internal. For 2013, it says that Capricorns need to express themselves more and open up their feelings, for people to know them better. I hope that is the case.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Bertha Jones says:

    Romelle, I’m very proud of you and this is a very insightful article and shows the world that you are a very strong young man. Continue being yourself and telling the truth from your heart and blessings will continue to come your way. This has been a long and hard struggle, but you have overcome some serious obstacles and learned to live with a new normal. Many people would have given up, but you keep on keeping on. I’m proud to be your MOM and you give me inspiration every day to be a better and stronger person.

    Love always

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