When I had been a dad for about three years, my friend Steve announced his wife was expecting. Congratulations! Celebratory beers and snacks all around.
Between nachos, Pete, another dad of long experience said, “You had better stock up on sleep now. You’re going to need it.”
Steve looked at us quizzically, “What?”
Pete and I just started laughing. It’s one of those things that you can’t know unless you’ve lived it. Knowing that, as a new dad, you’re going to be getting sleep in hour-and-a-half blocks. That they’ll be crying, milk-spit on your shoulder, dirty diapers and occasionally pee in the face, all while experiencing the joys of sleep deprivation.
“Didn’t you see the bags under my eyes two years ago? Didn’t you wonder why I fell off the face of the earth?”
Steve hadn’t noticed.
I didn’t say, “Well I know something that you don’t.”
Move forward a few months.
My wife and I are getting phone calls from Steve’s wife. She’s desperate. You can hear it in her voice.
“He’s really not getting this. I’m not getting any help. He’s acting like we don’t have a new baby. I need him on my team. You’ve been through this Is there any way you can drag him out again and explain this to him?”
Time for the ‘old dads chat’ with Steve. Around about the second beer, I asked that most difficult of questions: “Steve. I’m guessing what you’re wondering is, when do I get my old life back?”
“Yeah,” Steve said, “that’s exactly it.”
“You don’t. That’s why they call it a ‘life changing event.’”
Chronic Illness as a Life-Changing Event
In a lot of ways, having a child with a chronic illness is like that. A life changing event. As parents, you probably remember the sleepless nights walking the floor, diaper stink and frustration. You also might remember that, as time goes on, while you don’t get your old life back, things do get better. Or at least more normal.
Quite frankly, compared to seeing your child struggle with chronic pain, the relatively benign trauma of baby-induced sleep deprivation, the collapse of your social network and that barnyard smell pervading your house might seem like a walk in the park.
Years ago, there was a time when I didn’t really know what migraines were. These days, listening to people talk about migraines who are as blissfully ignorant as I once was, I think, “I know something that you don’t. And I hope you never learn the way I did.”
But because you’re a parent reading this, you too probably have that knowledge too.
Understand there are things that help. Not all at once, mind. There is going to be pacing and hair-tearing frustration, dead-ends and tears. There is no magic jellybean and you don’t get your old life back. But things do get better.