The English language contains homographs, commonly spelled words that have more than one definition. One word has recently become particularly real to me since my ALS diagnosis five years ago. The disease has progressed to the point that I fit the definition of an invalid as the disease confines me, and I am unable to care for myself.
Receiving assistance for life’s necessities is humbling. Having been an independent person, I struggle with being dependent. But an unexpected reality has forced that issue.
I once traveled worldwide, but now I rarely leave the house. I once led a team of approximately 43 people, more than 300 contractors, and scores of volunteers. Our efforts resulted in thousands of people receiving assistance during disasters. Close to 1,000 homeowners received assistance each year with the partial rehab of their substandard homes. Volunteers built an estimated 300 churches per year and assisted with numerous community outreach initiatives. Doctors and dentists provided free medical help. Yes, I miss those days.
Which raises the question, has this invalid become invalid? If you’ve ever had an expired driver’s license or credit card, you understand invalid. To be invalid means you are neither true or correct. Further, you’re unacceptable and inappropriate. No one wants to be invalid.
Nor do I, which is why I refuse to accept that portion of the homograph. Clearly, health issues can decrease one’s capacity. I often suspect that health insurance providers refuse payment for expensive treatments because they see their customer as invalid or hopeless.
Being classified by a health professional as an invalid denotes someone else’s resignation regarding your situation and potential. One can simply accept that designation and give up. Or, one can fight their disease or calamity and redefine significance for themselves.
February marks the 10-year anniversary of my mother’s death after a 10-year bout with Alzheimer’s disease. She met every definition of being an invalid, but to our family, she never became invalid. Though engagement with her became markedly different, we could enjoy her presence, the memories we shared with her, and those occasional lucid moments that reminded us of her love and joy.
Any number of medical professionals can classify you as an invalid, but I feel that the only person who can render you invalid is you. God’s purpose in our lives doesn’t stop with a catastrophic diagnosis. Even with a degenerative disease, somehow, some way one can live out that purpose. God’s creation is not invalid no matter the state of one’s health.
I am not naïve. I know how hard living with a progressive, degenerative disease can be. Each day in some way I fight for validity, which is why I call myself the ALS Warrior. The fight can be exhausting and discouraging. But I will continue to fight because I have no intention of becoming invalid.