National Handshake Day Could Be a Painful Day For Chronically Ill

[Love] does not boast, it is not proud.” (1 Corinthians 13:4)

Today is National Handshake Day. For those who are acknowledging the day, it is likely about teaching people, especially women, how to have a firm and confident handshake. It is about how to extend your arm in the right manner, and how to grasp firmly. For those of us who live with painful chronic conditions, however, it is a moment for us to talk about the second you instinctively reach out to shake someone’s extended hand– and instantly regret it.

You can see his or her hand coming at you with gusto, and yet, your etiquette doesn’t allow you to jerk your hand back. And then comes the squeeze. Maybe even the “crunch” while it’s being pumped.

Having lived with rheumatoid arthritis nearly twenty years, it took me the first ten to figure out how to handle these situations. My husband watched as I would shake someone’s hand and walk away holding my limp hand with tears in my eyes. I expected a simple handshake. What I received was some kind of effort on the shaker’s hand to prove him or herself to me. My husband would watch and get angry, saying, “What do they have to prove by squeezing it?” It should be a simple shake, not a squeeze that shows off their strength.

Yes, these men and women were strong, taller than me, and they had bigger hands too. But love has no reason to boast or be prideful and that is what it felt like they were doing. Pumping my arm up and down and squeezing at the same time put me in so much pain I did not hear anything they said, including their name.

In time, I learned to now extend my left hand and with my four fingers, I grasp their open handshake pose. During casual introductions they are caught off guard and don’t squeeze. Other times, I quickly say, “I have rheumatoid arthritis so I don’t shake,” and smile. In 2009 I had the four joints replaced with silicone joints between my fingers and hand. Months later, I knew it was finally as healed as it would become when instinctively held out my left hand again, instead of my right. (When you have a scary looking outrigger splint on one arm, they are scared to eve get near you, much less squeeze your “healthy hand” I found.).

How many times do we give someone a little “dig” of “I can do this quite well. I am not struggling in this way”? Do we ever compete with our grandma and her walker when it comes to getting to the picnic table at the park first? (Because what will people think if Grandma is faster than us?) Do we insist on not using the disabled parking placard even when we are in great pain because we are afraid someone will say something?

Love does not boast and it is not proud. Just be you. Do what you can and ignore the comments or looks from others that are less than kind. You never know who may be watching you and find your own struggles comforting in a way because they too are suffering silently and they see you persevering. And when you shake hands, remember, shake gently and don’t squeeze.

Prayer: Lord, we have no idea of who is in pain around us. Help me remember to give love and kindness, gentleness and patience, to all I meet. I am so grateful for every action I can take with this body. Never let me use my abilities you have blessed me with to make someone else feel less than Your Child. Amen.

About the Author:
Lisa is the founder Rest Ministries which serves the chronically ill on their journey with illness and pain, including daily devotionals. Rest Ministries also sponsors National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week. She is a speaker and the author of various books on chronic illness including Why Can’t I Make People Understand and Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend She has lived with rheumatoid arthritis for nearly 20 years and resides in California with her husband and 9-year-old son.

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Have you ever had your hand squeezed in pain? Have you ever felt like another person with an illness or disability was in competition with you for some reason? Tell us how you avoid shaking hands (if you do) or about another experience.

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