Learning to love again

You’ve probably heard of the five love languages. But what happens when you lose your ability to use the language that comes most naturally and need to communicate using other ways?

The theory goes that there are five ways by which we might show or feel affection; physical touch, presents and gifts, words of affirmation, quality time and acts of service. Most people will have one primary language that resonates with them, and the language by which you feel loved isn’t necessarily the same as the one by which you show people you care about them.

For me, I’ve primarily shown people that they matter by spending quality time with them. I’m the one in our family who initiates the phonecalls, for example. My secondary language, and the one I’d tend to show in less familial settings, is acts of service. So it’d be very natural for me to respond to a colleague under pressure by making them tea or getting the printer working for them, rather than encouraging them to keep going. But these methods doesn’t always work.

Not quality time

Recently I’d been looking forward to a houseparty because it afforded the opportunity of spending quality time with one of my friends. She lives hours away and we rarely see each other, but when we do it’s brilliant. We both arrived about 2pm, and she had until 5pm before she needed to find a train home. So far, so good. But as I arrived, I felt very sick, and spent the next 90 minutes or so vomiting violently and feeling very dizzy and faint. By the time I surfaced into the party, I was pale and shaking, my time didn’t have much quality to it! We chatted while I worked myself up to some dry toast, but the opportunity to reconnect was lost.

Giving gifts doesn’t come naturally to me at all; I find it awkward and uncomfortable. (I’ve previously bought gifts for people, only to bottle out from handing them over.) But I remembered that my friend had mentioned at the party that she was getting a new bike, to replace the one that was crushed in her horrific road accident. So I decided to send her a bicycle bell in the post, painted with her name, to show my support for her getting back on the roads after her injuries. To me it didn’t feel the same as the quality time we’d lost, but I think it made her happy.

Not acts of service

This one’s obvious – I have very little physical energy. To spend that energy on serving someone else would probably mean I couldn’t safely get myself home, or chew and digest my food. So as much as I wanted to care for my friends while camping by sorting out their tents, making them food, or washing up, it would just have been foolish. Clumsily, I started trying to use words of affirmation to build them up, complimenting the way they did things. But I’m naturally quite cynical, and find it hard to say nice things without wondering if I sound disingenuous!

Conversely, I’ve never felt particularly loved when people do things for me, despite how often they do. I’d much rather have a hug or a present. So I can easily and almost physically remember from my holiday the two times somebody hugged me that weren’t just to say goodbye, the hands that helped me up, and the four times somebody brought me something (hot chocolate, wellies, lunch, hot chocolate again). The value of these gifts needn’t be significant (80p, £10 which I reimbursed, free, 80p again) and it doesn’t matter if I asked for them first. Maybe it’s a second child thing, but when somebody brings me something they’ve got just for me, I’m overwhelmed.

Which languages are being spoken to you?

You can’t always choose how people care for you. Now I have physical and obvious care needs, lots of people do small acts of service for me. But I’m rarely hugged – crutches or my wheelchair kind of get in the way. I spend most of my time alone, resting, so quality time with others is hard to come by – I lack the stamina for it. Twitter is odd, in that all of those friendships are built solely on words of affirmation, as no other language is possible. But it’s still a place of real friendship.

In the last few weeks, I’ve tried to be more conscious of the ways in which I am loved, to be thankful for them, and for my friends and family. I’ve tried to show friends I care by being generous with gifts and praise, rather than giving up because I can’t find the words in my native love language. This loss of eloquence is a side of my illness that I never realised would be so disabling.

How has it been for you? If you’ve acquired a disability, has that changed the ways you’re able to care for people? Or if you don’t have one, in what environments are you more or less comfortable in expressing affection for your friends and family?

I’d like to thank…

I’ve just been on holiday. I had an amazing time. And I couldn’t have done it alone.

In a testament to just how much our Church loves each other, and how far I’ve come in relinquishing my stubborn independence in order to actually achieve anything, I’d like to say some thank yous.

Before I went:

Eight weeks of gradual planning and packing meant that I wasn’t too drained to travel. I’d like to thank my sister, for lending me a tent, and Ruth for coming over to help put it up. Dave and Amy for congratulating me on wrestling it back into the bag by myself. My Dad for lending me his tin box of useful camping things, with which I fed people, lent guy ropes, pegs, and generally kept other people warm and dry. My Mum for cooking for me in the week I was packing, and taking me shopping for food. Also for her heaps of encouragement. But then you’d expect that from family.

I’d like to thank my landlord and landlady for lending me a stove, ice box and gas, and for calling their friend Charles who had a kettle and brought it round specially. Thanks go to my physio for talking me through the energy I’d need for different things, helping push through the wheelchair assessment, and checking up that I wasn’t exhausting myself. And to the lady whose wheelchair I eventually bought, who completed the sale while attached to an oxygen machine, and whose parents drove her home in order to do so. Thanks go to Lee, the EPC manager who couriered parts to me in time for me to attach them, and the bike shop guys on my road for having a look at my spokes.

I’d like to thank the staff at Momentum, especially Sam who handled my booking, and all who answered my trivial questions carefully.

And for moral support, particular thanks go to Sally and Clare (also baker of flapjack, pray-er and wheelie skills helper) on twitter, and numerous other encouragers. At church, our student worker reacted just right, by getting to know me first and my care needs second. Then came naturally to the conclusion that if our church couldn’t look after each other, there was something wrong with the way we were doing church. I was emboldened.

When I got there:

Pete’s Dad Dave, who picked me up on the morning we left, and dodged traffic to get us to the meeting point on time. Pete for driving, Anna and Joe for letting me have the front seat when they were so squashed they couldn’t get into their own pockets. Anna W for coordinating it all. Ellie and Matt for making my packed lunch (with which we fed three people), and Samuel (4) for jumping up and down when I arrived at their house. Also thanks to the family for their spare key, and the backup plan of a bed and shower if I needed it.

Then I was safely in the care of my church group, a selection of 30 students and young (or not so young) adults, of whom I’d met five before. Thanks go to the tent putter-uppers, Nick, Martin and Ian; the chefs and food preparers, Imogen, Ben, and Naomi; those who brought me just what I needed and exactly how I’d asked for it. Thanks to those who did my washing up without questioning why, who bought food and planned for meals to just be there for me, and the girl who made me hot tea at 7am in the rain. Thanks to the people who pushed my wheelchair; Andy, Danny, Martin, Jenni and others, and to Ed for holding an umbrella over me while they did so.

When I collapsed, particular thanks go to Anna T for noticing what was wrong, following instructions, and holding my head up while I drank Andy’s squash. To Naomi for fetching Ian’s jumper and making me comfortable. To Andy for not freaking out and timing my collapse (33 minutes 45 seconds).

The isolation can be particularly tough, so thanks to Ian for asking good questions and listening, to Cameron for being up early enough that I wasn’t doing physio exercises alone, to Andy for speaking the truth when I was doubting, and to Becs, who gave me a hug when everyone went dancing and I couldn’t join in.

In worship, I love to hold my hands in the air, jump and dance. Thanks to Basil, Toby, and the effortlessly cool East London guys for dancing so that I didn’t have to, to Christian, Pippa and Hannah for singing so beautifully I felt heard when I was too tired to sing. Between us, the worship I wanted to bring was offered up from our church. And thanks to everyone in front of me who refrained from putting their hands up so that I could see the words. Thanks to those who prayed for me – the prophetic words and pictures seem to form part of a bigger picture, and it’s a beautiful and exciting one.

And to my friends from home, a big thank you to Rich and Dave for a very normal chat over hot chocolate like the good old days, a cheeky thanks to Rich for letting me steal his coffee to warm my hands on while I was in the shower queue, and amazing gratitude to Dave for going out from his parent’s house to buy me new wellies. If you don’t use walking boots for two years, they disintegrate entirely, soles first. Who knew?!

And afterwards?

I still had to endure a few lonely days’ bedrest with laughable amounts of pain. But the overall effect of the holiday was transformative. With this support team of around fifty people to share the load, it’s easy to move from feeling 100% disabled to only 2% disabled, which is hardly disabled at all. An amazing relief, and a window of respite from a tough few months of missing out. The sermon at church today was based on Philippians 4:10-23 – the bit where Paul talks about being content in all situations. It might be easy to imagine that I’d be more content with my life if I wasn’t ill all the time, but to my delight, as I closed my eyes to imagine the place I felt content, and found it was exactly where I was sitting. The preacher spoke of pain being measurably easier to bear when one isn’t alone, and of the encouragement of doing life alongside other people, just as Paul encouraged his church in Philippi and was supported by them. Of weak people being made strong through the embodiment of Christ’s love, the Church.

With the extended Church to support me in this way, physically, emotionally and spiritually, and with the certain hope of a time to come when there will, finally, at last, be no more pain, I have found I am able to be content with what I have.