I think I have had my fair share of Jake Gyllenhaal’s rear and Anne Hathaway’s boobs. It was Sunday, typically my worst day of the week, and I laid under my soft light blue fleece electric blanket on the couch enduring the negative effects of methotrexate (which was taken the night before). The movie channels were all free which was a pleasant surprise. My husband was in the kitchen making us a fabulous tofu scramble breakfast when I discovered Love and Other Drugs, a movie I wanted to see years ago, was only 20 minutes in. Rad! I threw it on and became quickly annoyed with the cliché- he’s a successful drug rep. and she’s a screwed up artist- relationship. Why did I want to see this- I cannot even remember. After the millionth sex scene, it was just funny. “Anne Hathaway’s boobs again, and Jake’s butt, more boobs and butt,” I shouted to my husband to keep him informed of the important storyline developments as he made breakfast.
My husband plopped down next to me with hot bowls of scramble in hand. “We should find something else to watch,” he said in a serious tone. But, I was invested! I have a terrible habit of finishing movies because I have a genuine feeling that I might miss out on a moment which turns the whole movie around. I’ll call it the optimist in me. Most of the time it results in further disappointment but, I’m loyal. Halfway through the movie, there had been multiple references that Anne’s character not only being uncommitted but sick as well. It turns out they weren’t going for the mentally imbalanced artist cliché character, but rather stage one Parkinson’s disease. The foreshadowing took an unexpected turn.
My dad took my husband and me to lunch then visited for a couple hours on Monday. It was a chilly 36 degrees outside that day and my dad was in shorts. He also has rheumatoid arthritis. He has run the gamut of medications like methotrexate, enbrel, humira, remicade, and others that were unfamiliar to me. He’s now only on high doses of prednisone and pain medications as needed. His words were “I would rather live a short happy life than a long and painful one.” I can definitely understand his sentiment.
I have never been close to my dad and don’t see or talk much with him. He’s a very distant person seemingly to the world, which has provided me some solace- at least it’s not just me. Since I informed him of my diagnosis however, he has made a big effort to call more. I can hear the guilt in his voice when I tell him about my symptoms or explain my good or bad day. I try to reassure him that he did not intentionally pass this on.
This is the first time I have seen him since I was diagnosed and it was the least awkward visit we have ever had. I feel that I understand him for the first time in my life and, sad as it is, we also finally can relate to one another. In fact, he is the only live person who understands exactly what I am going through. It’s very comforting to have that- 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or a couple hours with someone who gets it. For some reason, it makes me feel less crazy. Perhaps, I still am suffering from denial but, sometimes I feel like it’s ridiculous and impossible that my body is attacking the lining of my joints. It’s just too absurd- that’s why most people cannot understand!
I looked at my dad differently that day. He showed me his knees, elbows, but said his shoulders are the worst. Though I was particularly saddened to hear that his legs are now unable to lay flat; his knees are that bad. This is all still so new to me and I felt astonished to see the reality of this disease on my own father. Though he didn’t complain and remains positive, I saw a glimpse that he is disheartened and ashamed of his nodules and damage. It’s hard to comprehend and even so many years in (he showed symptoms at 26) it seemed it was even difficult for him too. He told me that I would eventually get used to the pain. He said he’ll be limping and people will ask him what’s wrong and he doesn’t realize the pain until others mention it.
I look at my own body and think naively, this cannot happen to me. My hands, elbows, shoulders, knees, ankles, feet, and hips show no obvious signs of disease. Even on my worst days, I don’t have terribly obvious swelling. My dad described he had so much swelling that doctors had to drain fluid to relieve the pain. I try to imagine all that he has been through but, am really too baffled to comprehend it. How can your body do this to itself? How does my dad still smile?
He has been through numerous relationships/marriages, has five children of his own, and now resides mostly 7,000+ air miles away with a woman and her eight-year-old daughter. He mentioned that if his RA worsened that he would have to come back to the US leaving his new family behind. He said he has gone over this with his girlfriend. How could he do that?
I feel guilty occasionally for being sick and getting in the way of my husband’s life and joy. He’s so energetic, positive, and has so much to offer the world. Especially on my bad days, I feel like my disease- I interfere with that. Luckily, my husband sees caring for me as a privilege and does so with incredible kindness and entirely without complaint. Also, I am able to (mostly) receive his kindness without guilt and instead with great gratitude.
In Love and Other Drugs, Anne’s character runs from commitment as she sees herself as burdening someone with her progressive disease. If I had seen this movie prior to my diagnosis, I would have thought it was ridiculous but now I know; diseases are burdensome for all involved. Some people can handle illness while others cannot (the sick included). I can’t help but wonder if my father’s distance from me, my half siblings, significant others, and the world and his uncommitted ways stem from RA.
Though the writing wasn’t good and it had plenty to greatly dislike, I’m thankful I was loyal to Love and Other Drugs as it actually raised important questions and had a powerful message, one that is not usually discussed or acknowledged. I have read so many comments on RA related discussion boards about men and women who have unsupportive partners, family, and friends. Some issues arise from lack of discussion of the disease, stubborn independence, guilt, meanness stemming from pain, frustration, unfair workloads, lack of sympathy or compassion, and so on. With so much chronic illness and disease in our world, why are relationships and chronic disease not in public discussions. Why is Manti Te’o's hoax a more important public discussion when more than 75% of marriages result in divorce when one partner is chronically ill?
It makes me think of John Edwards. Why and how did he leave his wife when she was dying? Why is the focus on his mistress and child rather than on the struggle of relationships when dealing with chronic or terminally ill? There are always dramatic soap-opera type distractions from real issues that we all could learn and grow from. It’s easy to judge a situation and condemn when we are given bits and pieces of information but, what good does that do? Focusing on the negative does nothing. In fact, it causes more damage by perpetuating and empowering fear rather than creating a discussion with the focus on problem solving and thus improving life.
We all empower our world to be what it is through our actions and as consumers. We are what we buy, read, and watch. When a movie with the premise of chronic illness is hidden in previews and gains viewers through celebrity, cliché writing, and lots of unnecessary nudity/sex, it’s a societal problem. When society is affixed on poking fun of a southern 8-year-old beauty pageant child, I scream- we have to be better! It’s time to have meaningful discussions without the soap-opera prequels.