Suffering from a chronic disease can be very difficult as you adjust to the changes in your body. These constant changes and loss of certain functions can take a huge toll. If there is one thing I have learned it's that even though adjusting to your new life and abilities may be difficult and make you angry, laughter is still the best medicine for those with a chronic disease.
When I was first diagnosed, I remember finding an online support group that had a thread titled, "You know you have a chronic disease when." The thread was filled with things like, "when your grandmother offers to let you use her walker she had after hip surgery because she doesn't need it anymore," or "when your pharmacist knows about you and your family and you know about hers." Remembering that thread, I came up with a few core classes that could be offered at a Chronic Disease University.
Walking Assistance 101 - This course is designed to introduce you to all the amazing and stylish walking accessories on the market today and teach you how to use them. From those fancy bright colored forearm crutches that look like ski poles to the fantastic walkers with the built-in resting seat. This course will show you all there is to offer. Walking with one of these assistance devices may look easy, but it will take practice. The final for this class will require you to walk a small obstacle course without knocking any of the bright orange cones down or falling. Prerequisite: Falling 101
Falling 101 - While the idea of a class in falling may seem a bit odd, learning how to fall is a core part of graduating from Chronic Disease University. You will learn there are many ways to fall that you didn't know about. Occasions of falling UP stairs, tripping over nothing, and falling while walking on a flat surface with no obstacle. This course will also provide you with tips on how to fall safely and avoid creating a black and blue body of bruises that you must try to explain when wearing shorts and a t-shirt because your temperature won't regulate and even though it is only forty degrees outside, you are having hot flashes and sweating. Concerned citizens don't fall for the line "oh I walked into a door or fell up the stairs" when they ask how you got the bruises and this class will teach you how to avoid those questions.
Housekeeping 101 - This course will teach you that it is ok if your house does not look perfect. If you are in the middle of a flare and your body is just not working, this course will help you to understand that it is ok if there is a week's worth of dishes in the sink and you can't get to them. Just remember to keep a supply of paper plates on hand to use when that sink is completely full and the house no longer has clean dishes. It will teach you to ask others for help and to let go of your "superwoman complex", even if just for a day. You will be surprised at just how well your two-year old can wash dishes and take a bath at the same time.
Gadgets 101 - This course will introduce you to all the amazing gadgets that can make life with a chronic disease much easier. Things like those arm extension things with the little grabber at the end to help you reach things that are normally out of your reach or potato peelers that fit in the palm of your hand so that you are not required to try and hold things with hands whose grip has long since disappeared. This course also includes a development center where we work to create new gadgets. Things like a tool to allow us to button our pants or shirts so we can wear something more stylish than sweat suits on bad days.
Wheelchair Obstacles 101 - This course is designed to get you to where you can traverse just about any obstacle course without knocking things over, running over your best friends foot, or having the battery run out and leave you stranded. The final obstacle course for this class will take place on the day after Thanksgiving at your local department store. If you can successfully wheel your way through that, you will have no problems in your everyday routine. For practice we will also have wheelchair obstacle races. All winners will receive shiny colored stickers to decorate their chair on wheels.
While living with a chronic disease is not easy and we face so many battles every day, learning to laugh, even if it is at silly things we have done, can sometimes work better than all the pills and medication your doctor could prescribe. Now, these are just the core classes. Keep your eyes out for the list of optional classes to come.