Monday, October 22, 2012

I'm Just As Normal As You

A reflection piece written by Jeff Johnson that we wanted to share:

I'd like to approach a subject here that's been present in our community for quite some time and unfortunately isn't always dealt with as openly and honestly as it could be. I'll warn everyone now that this is challenging, both of and for, parents. Not in a negative way but in a healthy, self examining way. Still, one should probably not proceed unless one is prepared for reflection, self examination and even, perhaps, the rejection of deeply held beliefs and feelings.

The subject I'd like to discuss is the attitude that having hemophilia makes one less than normal and warrants feelings of guilt or regret in a parent or should be viewed as "bad news" and cause for mourning or distress. Now, I'm pragmatic enough to admit that yes, hemophilia is a whole different level of lame and I'm not demeaning my own condition. Bleeds suck, especially when they prevent an activity or life choice from playing out as we would have preferred. And it is expensive, of course, and time consuming. Yes, it has numerous challenges. But at the same time it is important to maintain perspective. There are countless conditions worse than hemophilia and in the grand scheme of things being born a hemo is far better than being born with MS or cancer or sickle cell anemia or so on. While a challenge, hemophilia isn't any longer a death sentence or even condemnation to a life that is less than normal. Our factor today is amazing, as is our care. Compared to previous generations and the trials they experienced, today hemophilia is barely even a disorder, which is why I often joke that "hemophilia is the new asthma!" While it may seem, to a clotter, that we hemos are afflicted with this terrible curse and will never experience the life which others would have wished for us, the reality, despite even the fears of a mother, is that there is absolutely no reason to believe that a hemo's life, especially today, will be any less full or rich or adventurous or rewarding than the life of our fully clotting peers. This isn't romanticizing either. Hemophilia has in many ways become an affliction of the soul and mind just as much, if not more than, of the body, and it's important that we treat it in those regions as diligently and bravely as we do the body.

Which brings me to the part where I am going to challenge parents. When a parent (or grandparent, uncle, aunt, guardian, etc.) makes a statement that they feel guilty or regret that their child has hemophilia, what they are really saying is that they feel bad because their hemo is less than they could have been. Argue the point if you like, but tracing back from these statements, which I see often, that is the only logical end point. If one feels guilty for the condition of their child, then one sees reason to feel guilty, which means one sees in their child a condition in which that child is diminished or held back from being the something more they would be were that condition not present, which means that they see their child as being less than they could be. As a hemo, I must admit, that when I see someone expressing feelings of guilt because they had a hemo, or a refusal to have children because they're a carrier, or sharing the "bad news" that someone had a hemo, I feel demeaned and somewhat offended, as the greater idea those statements convey is that we hemos are less than we could be, less than our parents hoped for, less than our siblings or peers, less desirable. Less. This is simply not the case. As I discussed earlier, we hemos are equally capable today as any clotter. With modern treatment there is simply no challenge, activity or experience partaken by clotters which it would be impossible for a hemo to participate in. We are active, we are strong and yes, we even play football and hockey now. Yes, that really happens. But to get back to my main point, it is more attitude that restrains us today than hemophilia. We face far more challenges in overcoming the perception that hemophiliacs are fragile creatures at risk of greater harm than our clotting peers than we do of actually being held back by our condition itself, and this perception finds its home in the fears and guilt of parents and guardians.

I will break here and state that yes, being a parent is incredibly difficult and the fears that a parent faces are sometimes insurmountable. We all know this, whether we are parents ourselves or not. At no point do I intend to convey that parents don't have a tough, demanding job and in no way am I demeaning a parent's emotions, fears or feelings. They are all reasonable and understandable. What I am hoping for, however, is to challenge some parents to engage in genuine self examination and to really confront how their emotions, fears and feelings affect the hemos they are experiencing those feelings for. To delve into themselves and ask themselves questions which many parents eschew, such as "Are these feelings beneficial? Is the way I feel good for my child? Even though I feel this deeply, is it really best for my child or is it creating an attitude that is detrimental to my child?" These are difficult questions, yes, but they are good ones to challenge one's self with. Quite often in my experience in the hemophilia world I have been confronted with parents who don't take this step and instead express their fear/guilt/regret/what-have-you and then stop there and wrap themselves in the mantle of parenthood, stating that "As a parent I am allowed to feel however I want!" Well, yes, we all are. And that's the catch. As a parent one is absolutely entitled to feel however one does, but parents are not released from the consequences of their feelings and the affects which they have on others, just as a pebble cannot be expected to be dropped into a pond without causing ripples to emanate and flow away from it. One's feelings of guilt for having a hemo may feel entirely legitimate to them, but in their child they may cause feelings of inadequacy. While a parent is mourning that their child has hemophilia they may be subconsciously communicating to said child that they are not as special and capable as they could have been born. The ramifications of a parent's attitude, even if not explicitly stated or expressed, are profound. I've seen, too many times, proof of this at summer camp. I've attended hemophilia camps since the mid eighties as a kid myself, and have worked as staff since the nineties. Every year, without fail, I observe at least one hemo who comes into camp meek and apprehensive. They're unsure of their potential and afraid to fully engage. As the week progresses and we work with them to instill courage and empowerment, they come alive, and by the end of camp they are running, jumping, climbing rock walls and living with the gleeful abandon that they deserve. It's glorious. But then, on the last day, they retreat back into themselves, especially when their parents show up. Now that Mom is around again it's time to go back to being a hemo, a defective kid who isn't "normal." It breaks my heart every time because it doesn't have to be. Many parents don't even realize that they are doing this, which is sad as well. They think they've contained their guilt, their fears and their regret and that their child is completely unaware, but that's merely an illusion. Their child is very much aware of how Mom and Dad feel and so, out of his love for them, he plays along. "Mom feels guilty that I have hemophilia so I'll be good and not do anything 'dangerous.'" "I don't want to make them feel worse so I won't try out for soccer." And so on and so forth. They don't live up to their potential and their parents never see what their child is really capable of. Hemophilia hasn't held them back; the attitude and perception that it is less than normal and cause for guilt has. I see it all the time.

So again, I challenge parents to really look deeply into themselves and examine their emotions and feelings. Ask yourselves if how you feel is really, legitimately warranted and if it is the best way to feel for your child. Examine why you feel a certain way and whether or not it is based on fear or reality. Reject the comforting but unhelpful sanctuary of "I'm a parent and can feel however I like" and instead proceed with the attitude of "Even how I feel inside affects him so what is the best way to look at life? And him?" Of course these kinds of exercises are difficult, but so is learning to self infuse, which your little hemo will have to do regardless. Consider this "prophy for the soul." I promise you, it's for the best, for everyone. Hemos who grow up in homes where the attitude is "You just have hemophilia, not 'made out of tissue paper syndrome' so get outside and play" flourish.

In closing I'll pose the question, "What is normal anyway?" Not having hemophilia is normal? I call shenanigans. From my perspective, it's clotters who are abnormal. They freak out at the thought of getting stuck with a needle, a bruise gives them panic attacks, they think a limp is a sign that it's time to see a doctor, they usually can't wrap an ankle to save their lives. Poor clotters... So far from normal... See what I'm getting at? There is no normal, so there is no model of normalcy to hold a child up against. We all have conditions. We are all imperfect, and in this lies our perfection. So from a totally "normal" hemo who hopes to one day live free of the perception that I am less, please challenge yourselves to no longer see us as less. See us as more. See us as normal.

Or I'll stick you.


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