Archive for the Week 15: Making Others Understand Category

Empathy: 101

Posted in The Blogs By Cookie, Week 15: Making Others Understand on October 17, 2011 by Cookie Has A.S.

All right class, please get comfortable and put your nametags on.

Welcome to Empathy 101.  This week’s class will be about making others understand.

My name is Cookie and I will be your teacher.

Lets start with the meaning of the word empathy.

Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings (such as sadness or happiness) that are being experienced by another sentient or semi-sentient being. Empathy is the key cornerstone in genuine human relationships.

Compassion is a virtue — one in which the emotional capacities of empathy and sympathy (for the suffering of others) are regarded as a part of love itself, and a cornerstone of greater social interconnection and humanism — foundational to the highest principles in philosophy, society, and personhood.

Also included in this would be the word sympathy. In order to succeed in this class you must understand the meaning of the word sympathy.

Sympathy is a social affinity in which one person stands with another person, closely understanding his or her feelings.

So now that everyone has a clear meaning of the words, we will begin our class on making others understand.

First we must ask our selves what is the goal of making others understand.

Second we must ask our selves what is the reason of making others understand.

Last but not least we must ask our selves what is gained by making others understand.

The goal of making others understand is to remove the barriers that divide us as human beings. To alleviate some of the burdens placed on the divided sides of humanity, to bring us together spiritually and emotionally; to make it understood that we are all the same, unique unto our selves but equal just the same.

The reason of making others understand is different for each one of us. For some it is about social status, ethnic, spiritual, physical or sexual differences. But today, our class is about health differences. The status of being healthy or having a disease, living without pain or with chronic pain, or being able or disabled.

The last thing one must learn is what they hope to gain by making others understand. Is it about making people aware of your life with this disease, is it about gaining acceptance about what makes you different by having this disease, is it about validation for your self and the struggles you have with this disease. Most of the time when people reach deep into their souls, they will learn the journey about making others understand, was to get acceptance, validation and understanding not only from others but from themselves as well.

In achieving this goal then one defines the true meaning of humanity.

I hope that you will open your mind, and hearts and pay close attention to this class.

Get your pens and paper ready.

I want every one of you to write down the reason that brings you to this class and we will choose the topic and begin our journey of understanding.

The topic chosen is Making Others Understand About Ankylosing Spondylitis.

Before we move forward you will need to know a little about Ankylosing Spondylitis. Ankylosing spondylitis (AS, from Greek ankylos, stiff; spondylos, vertebrae), previously known as Bekhterev’s disease, Bekhterev syndrome, and Marie-Strümpell disease, a form of spondyloarthritis, is a chronic, inflammatory arthritis and autoimmune disease.[1] It mainly affects joints in the spine and the sacroiliac joint in the pelvis, and can cause eventual fusion of the spine.

It is a wide-spread disease that is not understood by those who research it, diagnose it, treat it, advocate about it, suffer from it, or those who know someone who does.

We are all working on ways to change the first five but this topic is about making people understand those who suffer from Ankylosing Spondylitis.

I have been chosen to give this class, because I suffer from Ankylosing Spondylitis, and have since childhood, it took thirty-two long and difficult years before getting my diagnoses and for treatment to begin. I have spent a life time keeping my disease invisible to others as much as possible, but as this disease changes my outside appearance so does the inside change. I have decided that I would be more vocal about what is wrong with me, by helping others with Ankylosing Spondylitis or learning about Ankylosing Spondylitis I find that the person I am helping the most  is myself.

I have a grandson, Hunter who is blind, and suffers from a rare life threatening  illness.  He is my hero, and such an inspiration to me. He has a wonderful spirit and will be an awesome motivational speaker one day. The picture below is the first time we were allowed to get close to him.  He was eight days old. He would end up spending the first four months of his life in the NICU. There would be many more days of suffering and still more to come.

This is Hunter today, thriving and enjoying his life to the best of his ability. He is such a joy and wonder to be with, he has taught me so much and continues to do so. He weathers the storms of his life with such courage, strength and integrity he makes mine seem like a small breeze in the wind.

I spent some time with Michael Ann who was his visual aide teacher for many years, a wonderful young woman who was passionate about her goal in teaching blind students, who was determined to give them the tools to succeed in life, and has a tremendous amount of compassion for my grandson and his struggles with his health and blindness. I remember a very intimate conversation with her about how she trained for this career. She said that she had to go to the School for the Blind in Austin, Texas. After much discussion on the subject she was told that she would have to live as a blind person. She admitted to me that she thought this would be a breeze, but found out it was one of the most difficult and eye-opening challenges she had ever faced in her life. She spent one week living as a blind person. She said there is nothing better than walking in a man’s shoes to learn empathy, compassion and understanding for what he deals with in his day-to-day life.

So that is how I came up with the idea of teaching Empathy 101: Making Others Understand.  You will be walking in the shoes of a person who suffers from Ankylosing Spondylitis. Welcome To Our World.

You will notice at the back of  the room everyone has a large tote with their names on it. Inside are the tools needed for this class, and may be the most important tools you will ever use in your life. Inside you will find, a neck brace, back brace, binder, marbles, pins,  flashlights, and post its. Most of you will each have these items but some will have more or less, and different ones. The reason being is Ankylosing Spondylitis is different for everyone and changes for that person on a daily basis.

Inside the tote that represents me, you will find a neck brace, back brace, binder, two bags of sand, rope, a pair of shoes, marbles, pins, flashlight, knives, and wire. I picked only the significant tools for you to use because of the limited space in the totes.

Let me give you a detail reason for my choice of tools to help you understand what it is like living in my body.

The neck brace that you will be wearing will constrict the movements of your neck. You will only be able to hold your head in one position and slightly move it from side to side. The back brace that you will be wearing will constrict the movements of your back. You will only be able to bend slightly and have limited movement from side to side. You see my spine is completely fused from my neck to the tail bone. I am unable to bend. I am able to move my head from side to side and up and down with very limited movement. Most of the time when a doctor asks me to touch my chin to my chest they miss the movement because to me it feels as if it is moving but they are unable to see it.

The binder you will be wearing will wrap about your rib cage. This will give you that tight feeling along with the difficulties in breathing making you only able to take short shallow breaths. My ribs have fused together and have caused me great difficulty breathing for many years.

The bags of sand weigh approximately twenty pounds each. Which will cause you to slow down in your movements wearing you out by the end of the day. They are designed to represent the fatigue that Ankylosing Spondylitis causes me on a daily basis. Letting you experience the struggles I have with dragging myself through the day. This allows you to understand how weighted down a person suffering from Ankylosing Spondylistis feels.

The rope will be used to limit your range of motion of your limbs, it will be tied loosely around your arms and legs. It will allow you restricted movements. The joints of my shoulders and legs are beginning to fuse, this makes it difficult to raise my arms or open my legs.

The shoes are a plain simple flat heeled, you will notice they are size nine. When my feet are measured for fitting, they are said to be a size six. The reason the shoes are three times larger is to allow room for the knots on the back of my heels. I wear flats because anything higher causes extreme pain in my lower back.

There is a small bag of marbles included in the tote. Each bag will be sewn into the lining of the shoes in the heel section. This is designed to let you experience the pain that I feel every time I make a step. Every time you make a step you will feel an excruciating amount of pain shooting up your heels to your mid calf.

The small pins included will be attached to the palms of your hands. It is designed to make you experience prickly feelings and sharp little pains in your fingers and hands. This allows you to understand the pain I feel when I try to type or write a letter or close my hands up in fist.

The flashlight included will be attached to a device that will fall in front of your head during the times you are in the light or having your picture taken. It will shine directly in your eyes and then moved out-of-the-way, temporally blinding you. This will give you the same experience of what it is like when I have my picture taken or walk into a bright room or outside. It will demonstrate the sensitivity to light I have.

The next tool we have is a small set of knives. Now don’t worry we won’t use these on any of the students. They will be sewn in to the pockets of small jackets and pants that you will be wearing. It is to demonstrate the sharp stabbing pains we sometimes experience unexpectedly during our daily activities. I will warn you now that there will be times that the stabbing sensation is so painful that you feel you should be bleeding to death, but I promise you that won’t be the case.

The wire included is the best available on the market guaranteed not to rust or make one ill. We will be using it to wire you mouth shut for the duration of this class. It is designed to make it difficult for you to open your mouth. We have no way of making it difficult for you to swallow but this will help you to understand how difficult and painful it is to open a mouth when your jaw is fusing. It has gotten to the point that my doctors don’t even say open wide and say ah because my throat will not open up and my mouth won’t open wide enough for them to see inside. This makes intubation  for surgery very difficult and painful. I am no longer able to open my mouth wide enough to take a complete bite of a hamburger.

The last tool you will be given is a stack of sticky post its. On each one of the hundred you receive will have the numbers zero to ten on them. This marks the level of pain you are feeling on the pain scale. You will be able to put them on the places of your body that you are experiencing pain. You will have at least four sets of each number, so you can change them during the day as your pain level changes. This will also allow people to be able to look at you and see the amount of pain you are experiencing. They are designed to help make Ankylosing Spondylitis a visible disease.

Well that covers the explanation of the tools, so lets suit up!

Now that everyone is in their new Ankylosing Spondylitis bodies, and suffering we can begin our mission of making others understand. So let the masquerade ball begin!

I figured the first setting for our experience will be lunch, so if everyone will get ready we will make our way to the cafeteria. You may find your self needing to stop for small breaks. I suggest that when you are descending down the stair ways you use the handrail and walk a little to the side. Often times you will catch yourself leaning forward and may result in you falling down the stairs. It is natural to lean your body forward to look down since you will be unable to move your neck. So please use extreme caution.

For those of you wearing the neck and back braces you will want to find a table that have straight back chairs, since you won’t be able to lean back and get comfortable. You may also want to ask the person across from you at the table if they mind if you place your plate and drink in the middle part of the table so you will be able to view your plate of food, this will be extremely difficult since you are not able to look down. Oh, a friendly reminder those of you who have neck braces remember to get your straws for your drinks, you will not be able to tilt your head back and tilt the glass to drink, so a straw is what you will need. For those of you ordering steaks, you may want to ask that it be cut up for you in small pieces. The pins and stabbing pains you will experience in your hands will make it difficult for you to cut it your self. The wire in your mouth will make it difficult for you to open your mouth and chew your food.  I hope you all enjoy your meals.

Will everyone follow me to the parking lot, there will be an assortment of vehicles for your transportation to our next location for this experiment. Please be careful and try to walk slowly and shuffle your feet, since you won’t be able to see where you are stepping you will need to use extreme caution as not to trip over anything or step in a hole. You will also need to be careful about dropping anything, if you do you will need to use caution when leaning down to pick it up, many times gravity will cause you to fall face first to the ground. Hopefully you will be ably to rely on the kindness of others to pick it up for you, but don’t count on it. I will also take this opportunity to warn you that people will be staring at you, some will point, look, turn away speaking loud enough for you to hear what they are saying but pretending to not notice you can hear, some will even have the nerve to come up to you and ask personal questions about you that are simply none of their business. You are entitled to react in any way you see fit, besides using violence of course. One of the responses that I have used in the past that works quiet well, is that I became this way after asking a little old bent up lady, what did you do to yourself, and letting her know she didn’t look sick. There are also t-shirts available that say on the front of them,


You will have approximately ten minutes to find a vehicle suitable for you, those that are not able to find one, will be left behind. I suggest those with neck and back braces to attempt the trucks first. Since I am completely fused I find it impossible to bend enough to get into small cars, so I ride in trucks most of the time. (Below are pictures of Rick Pokerwinski, who has given me permission to share them with you. Thank you so much, Rick.)!/photo.php?fbid=107119072634551&set=o.209801168268&type=1&theater

Passengers and drivers, please listen carefully. I feel for the safety of innocent patrons and yourselves, I must warn you. Drivers please take a moment to adjust your mirrors to help you. Since you are not able to turn your head, you will rely on your mirrors. Passengers please pay close attention to the road, when you see holes or bumps in the road please brace your self for the stabbing pain you will experience in your back or neck. That pain at times will be so excruciating that you will actually scream out, possibly frightening your driver, and diverting their attention, which may cause an accident. I speak from experience, during one of our weekend outings my husband and I were driving around in his mustang. This mustang was very difficult for me to get in, but I struggled though the pain and difficulty so I could enjoy cruising with my husband. The design of the vehicle caused many blind spots for me. I had seen a motorcycle and wanted a better look, so I tried to turn to look and when I did, I experienced a terrible sharp shooting pain in my back, causing me to scream out. This of course frightened my husband, who then turned to me to check on me, of course taking his eyes off the road, during this episode, he ran a red light. Which was very frightening to know that I could have cost us our lives or innocent people to be hurt. We said our prayer of thanks and at that moment he seen the lights in the mirror. The lady police officer, was no more concerned about the cause of this incident, only that we had run a red light. She stated she couldn’t care less if I was dying, there was never a reason for anyone to run a red light. (I am wondering if I should invite her to this class, now that I think about it.)

Please be extremely careful.

Our next destination in this experiment will be the Moody Gardens Resort in Galveston, Texas. My reasons for choosing Moody Gardens is because it will allow us to cover many scenarios in one place and in a short amount of time. Plus it is such a beautiful place. By surrounding yourself with nature’s beauty,  it makes it easier to over look the ugliness in mankind.

All right load up and let’s go!

Well I see we all made it safely, I did witness four mishaps but considering the circumstances I think we did good, everyone is safe and there is no material damage. I can tell by the expression on your faces, that the stress and struggles are beginning to show. You may consider practicing a poker face, because people will continuously ask you what is wrong or why are you mad. This tends to put strain on relationships causing a lot of  tension, resulting in bickering and arguing which will eventually cause resentment, on both sides.

I need to do roll call. We are missing seven students, but I was informed by text, they were unable to get inside the cars. Oh well, there is always next time.

During this part of the experiment everyone will be assigned to different areas and activities at the resort. Everyone will be doing this part of the experiment alone. I know it’s a little daunting to think you won’t have the support of your classmates, but in the real world there are many times  you will endure this alone, with no one to support you, comfort you or to hold your hand. I know this is frightening for some but it’s the sad truth. Most of us don’t always have the love and support we need to help us get through the difficult times.  I know I have learned the hard way that courage isn’t always a loud roar, sometimes it is a soft whisper in the dark, saying I will try again tomorrow.

I will give you a run down on the activities you will all be attending and offer my best advice and challenges you may face. Everyone was given an envelope when you registered for this class, if you will be so kind to open, you will  see the activity you will be assigned for today. The activities are as follows.

Massage: please make sure to ask for the light massage, because deep tissue massages will sometimes cause extreme pain in the joints and muscles. Those who are unable to move their neck, may want to ask if they have a table with the hole in it so you can put your face down in it. I would suggest taking advil before hand.

Pedicures: make sure that the water is not extremely hot, due to over sensitivity to heat. Make sure you stop them before turning on the massager in the chairs, due to the intense pain it will cause in your back. I suggest taking a pillow with you, because it will be extremely difficult for you to lean back and relax in the chair.

Hair cuts and coloring: Make sure that you check and see if you are able to lay back in the chair where they will rinse your hair, would hate for them not to be able to rinse the dye out of your hair.

Exercise room: make sure if you use the treadmill to do so at a low-speed, you will tend to lose your balance very easily and fall.

Patio: you will need to check out the chairs around the patio. You will want a chair that has a back that is straight up, if you sit in one that leans back the only view you will enjoy is the sky.

Nap time: you will want to make sure that you get a bed that is close to the ground, none of those beautiful high-rise beds for you. You will need to make sure that your feet are able to touch the ground so you can use the floor to help you get into bed and able to reach the floor quickly when you get out of bed. Those of you who are wearing neck and back braces, make sure you ask for a king size bed, so that you don’t hit anyone when you swing your body into motion to get out of bed. Remember you no longer have any flexibility so you are like a little bowling pin.

Remember every envelope has the activity that you will do, tips on how to minimize your discomfort and warnings to help you escape injury or pain.

Everyone is to be back here in four hours, watch and use your time wisely, and make arrangements prior for unseen issues. Anyone late meeting here will be given a zero for your grade today. Good luck.

Welcome back class, sit down and relax, while I look over your notes on today’s activities. From the notes, I can see you all have realized that living in the body of an Ankylosing Spondylitis person is very challenging, sometimes frightening, and very painful. I am glad to notice that there are notes here indicating some of you experienced anger, frustration, depression, kindness, laughter, compassion, and understanding. Life is never the same from day-to-day for a person suffering with Ankylosing Spondylitis, it teaches most of us to stop and take a moment in the fast lane and enjoy the simple blessings in life. Job well done.

All right everyone class will be adjourned shortly. When you leave please stop by my desk to pick up your homework assignments on Sleepless In The  Spondy World. Tomorrow we will all be going to the Baylor Medical Clinic, for the medical aspect of this class. You will have the pleasure of getting blood test, x-rays, bone scans, mri, trigger shots,  and infusions. Each one of you will be asked around a hundred questions concerning your medical history, your mental state, your pain levels, and how you are feeling today. Please be careful on how much information you share about your struggles, or how depressing this is for you. Wouldn’t want you evaluated for mental incompetency, now would we?

I wish you all a good nights sleep, your trial packages of Ambien are in the top drawer of my desk. Please take some even if you don’t think you’ll need it, you will.

I HOPE to see you all tomorrow, if you have the courage to walk another day in my shoes.  Class dismissed.

Lessons Learned In Life

I think life should be about touching the lives of people around us. Making a difference. Accepting people for who they are, going out of our way to help others, and loving with all that we’ve got. Sometimes all it takes is one simple gesture, and we can put a smile on someone’s face and make them feel less alone. That is what we should live for, because when we’re gone from this world, we can’t take anything with us. All that’s left are the people whose lives you touched, and the difference you’ve made while you were here. So make this life count, because you don’t get a second chance.~Unknown

This Blog is written in honor of Kelly Christal Johnston, who retired as a teacher due to Ankylosing Spondylitis, her dream is to reach out to as many people she possibly can, teaching them about our lives with Ankylosing Spondylitis in HOPE that one day we will all live as one, just Imagine how truly wonderful that would be.

Imagine by John Lennon

This Blog is dedicated to Hunter who has taught me to see the world with a compassionate heart.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart”
Helen Keller

“When an individual feels for another’s pain, as a superior towards an inferior, or feels sorry for a condition one cannot even imagine oneself in – that is the feeling of pity. We pity a blind person, for we don’t know what blindness is. However, when we rise higher, look at the other as an equal, can probably imagine ourselves in his condition, and feel a strong bond with him, then that pity converts itself into sympathy. When, however, we identify so totally with another that he suffers, and we feel the pain; he laughs, and joy suffuses our being; he is excited, and our heart leaps in exhilaration; then we are close to the condition that is called empathy.” Chandrika, author  Atma Siddhi

I would like to thank each and every one of you who cared enough to read this blog in its entirety. It’s the longest  one I’ve written and the most important one to me.

There are millions of people and families, who’ll never understand what it’s like to  live our lives. I hope I was able to help you understand what it’s like to walk in our shoes experiencing  the difficulties we deal with on a day-to-day basis.

I have been blessed with the honor of loving several people who society would consider handicapped or disabled.

I had a cousin who was mentally retarded due to a high fever as an infant, she passed away at the age of eighteen.

I had a cousin who was disfigured by third degree burns he suffered as a toddler, the cause was a pot of boiling water on the stove and a child’s curiosity.

My best friend had one leg amputated at the age of twelve, due to bone cancer, a battle she lost at the age of sixteen.

My mother suffered with rheumatoid arthritis and manic depression.

My father had a massive stroke at the age of fifty-three, leaving him paralyzed on his right side, and unable to speak.

My mother in law suffered with emphysema and wore an oxygen mask all the time.

My grandson was born blind, and suffers from a rare life threatening illness.

Then you have me, the  perfect picture of medical knowledge gone wrong, fused by Ankylosing Spondylitis.

Now you can see why this topic was so dear to my heart.

I hope that in some small way you will walk away a changed person.

Be The Change You Want To See In The World”  

Mathama Gandhi

Would You Change? By Tracy Chapman

Starting With The Man In The Mirror

By Michael Jackson


No One Understands My Life – In My Life By Kate

Posted in The Blogs By Kate, Week 15: Making Others Understand on October 17, 2011 by Cookie Has A.S.

I sacrifice and sacrifice whenever I can but I feel like no one sees. I am tired of being the middle child, even as an adult. It makes me sick. I love my mother but every time I turn around she makes decisions for my brothers and if those don’t work out she does what she does best for herself. I am never considered. I never have been by her. I remember realizing this when I was 12 and it never stopped from then on. Why I never have learned? Because she is my mother and I love her and I always have hope that one day, just one day I will be understood. It was always OK to leave me behind unless I was needed to help with something. Was I ever allowed to keep the things I wanted? No. Were my siblings? Yes. Sure this sounds like a jealousy post and you would be right in that. You yourself wouldn’t understand unless you knew the hell we went through growing up at times. I am sick of my place in this world. I have to forcefully get what I want and or need and my husband has never understood this but it goes way back to my childhood obviously. I spoil my daughter constantly and I am almost positive it’s because of the way I had been treated.

I am tired. I am tired of being ill physically, chronically and emotionally. I feel like no one in this world understands me and the people I want most to lean on do not care. No one in my life understands my emotional or physical pain. No one wakes up with me when I moan and cry from muscle or bone pain at 2 AM. My husband cannot stand to hear me speak more than 10 minutes after he gets home from work. He just wants to avoid everything. I am hurt. I feel like I have no one in this world. I wish I could make others understand, I wish others would understand but I feel so alone and lost anymore. No one understands in my life. I feel like this isn’t even coming across correctly. Feeling very misunderstood in this world.