Stuart Smith is at times disarmingly frank about the challenges of being a caregiver. Quick to point out that he and his wife are very happy with their lives, Smith also says that the changes to their relationship that resulted from his wife’s illness required substantial adjustments.
“My wife developed Ehlers-Danlos syndrome five years ago,” Smith says. “It is a rare condition that causes the tendons and ligaments in her joints to stretch, destabilizing her and causing a lot of pain. She’s had 21 surgeries to replace tendons and ligaments, and to complicate things, she cannot process pain medications.”
The Smiths have an organic garden and 60 chickens, and Stuart juggles the care of their home with driving his wife to daily physical therapy sessions and helping her with exercises at home. The couple is also active in advocating for the use of medical marijuana, which is legal in their home state of Rhode Island. Smith says that staying involved with advocacy causes is important to his well being as a caregiver.
“Doing positive things is a form of my own therapy,” he says. “It’s important to do things to stay healthy mentally and physically.”
The 65-year-old also swims every day in addition to his outdoor activities at home. He has close friends that he also spends time with and he says that he is fortunate to be blessed with a positive attitude.
“I have always been a glass-half-full kind of guy,” he says. “I’m lucky; I’m pretty upbeat. “Initially, the adjustment was pretty dramatic,” Smith continues.
“My wife is a very strong person, and she became dependent on me. That was difficult for both of us, but we love each other and 96 percent of the time, we get along together pretty damn well. But in this situation, we spend more time together than is normal for most couples, so we have difficult days when we’re both down. When that happens, we just have to remind ourselves that it will pass — and it does.”
Smith thinks that many caregivers make the mistake of not taking care of themselves while caring for their loved one. He points out that his own well being is directly tied to his wife’s quality of life. “My physicality allows us to live where we live, and it would be very hard for both of us to move,” Smith explains. “I have to do things to stay healthy for us both.”