I am a terrible sick person.
Since I’ve been varying levels of bilious for most of my life, you’d think I’d be a lot more apt at illness by now, but regrettably, I’m not. Growing up, I’d like to think I lived life in a way that would make Ke$ha proud (except no one is ever proud of anyone who says the word Ke$ha) and was literally too many steps ahead of myself. I had this constant sense of urgency, oft perpetuated by older siblings with whom I persistently wanted to impress (being that we’re siblings, still not sure if this has been achieved?), and my unremitting need to get ahead of feeling “yucky”.
“Yucky” was something I’ve always known, and was so much my normal that my extended family didn’t even know I was sick until recent years. Of course, since I’m the baby of the clan, we’ve had many a ‘crying wolf complex’ throughout that time as well (as every baby of the family should). What we once thought was my innate flightiness and bleach-blonde-dye-complex, later turned out to be a gradual, progressive hearing loss (which we now think came from untreated infection). My perpetual stomach pains and finicky relationship with food, later became valid intestinal problems warping my sense of hunger and fullness for the better part of my teen years. (Is it too soon to do the “I told you so dance?”)
To be fair, I functioned so well with the “yuckiness”, that I gave little reason to believe that most of my complaints were all that serious. As a child, we thought I had allergies, thus forcing large consumption of Lactaid milk and green vegetables. As I got older, we figured I just didn’t eat enough (vapid teenager ballerinas tend to do that), or needed to have less mood swings and more naps (the last part still holds true). By the time I was performing as a soloist for my local ballet company, I was popping Z-paks for bouts of bronchitis, pneumonia, strep and mono nearly as much as tags (two horrible pop references in the first three paragraphs: success!)
Sometimes I wonder if my somatic vagueries led to an unspoken rush on my life; as if I intrinsically wanted to achieve as much as I could before the “yuckiness” caught up with me. Whether working for a newspaper as a prebuscent Nancy Drew wannabe, completing high school in two years and commuting to college, or becoming a super young mother (the latter of which was not as efficiently planned as one would hope)… I never stopped. I didn’t have wild parties in college, or date two boys at once, or Cliff Notes an essay- I was a 4.0, Dean’s List, two-jobs-at-once obnoxious overachiever who really thought that that meant something, and made me more than someone else. But guess what, friends? I wish I had served more tables and cleaned more floors… ignored more rules… and eaten more cupcakes. Yes, an education and hard work and clear values are always a good thing, but life is not about our LinkedIn profile or collegiate rundown alone. It’s about finding the tiny slivers of things that make us feel like us, and cherishing them as much as the next.
But what did I do instead? The summary goes like this (read it three times fast): created popular fitness classes, became a certified personal trainer and nutritional writer, developed a dance conditioning system that I totally should have copyrighted (hindsight = some twenty’s); completed my first novel by the time I was thirteen, wrote my second book over the coarse of one weekend when my daughter was only three months old, created my own website with zero prior knowledge of coding or gadgets or business…. You get the picture?
But listen, this isn’t my professional resume or a complete gloat fest (see also, full gloat fest on LinkedIn)… the truth was, I was successful in my former lives. I tried my best to make my marriage work (nearly seven years of domestic, home-owning, Nissan-driving perfection that most people dream about in their 30’s, let alone their late teens). After being warned by my doctors (midwives, to be specific) that having a second baby could be risky- while also ignoring the reality of the volatility at home- I still embraced the pregnancy, knowing that motherhood was never a given, nor an option that lasts indefinitely. I traveled to New York and Vegas for top tech conferences, and rubbed elbows with celebs at fashion week (their elbows are really pointy and underfed, by the way). I consulted Forbes 500 companies before “social media” was a legitimate term, and looked super good in snotty-lady business clothes. I returned to my beloved dance company as a veteran teacher and choreographer, and found my second home (the studio, the students, the work). I wrote more novels..and more.. and read even more after that.
But the problem with a life that moves too fast, looks too perfect and feels to idealized?… it’s not real. Before long, the darkness within our home was released… the “making it all work” notion was over… the business heels and whirlwind travels and advocate endeavors were grinding to a halt… and I had to redefine who I wanted to be once more. Only now, the “yuckiness” was officially here, and no matter how hard I peddled… it wasn’t going away.
Mind over matter is an important thing to me. It’s how I achieved anything and everything in the world of dance- molding and shaping my body through bloodied heels and strained muscles and fledgling sound. It’s how I pushed my daughters in to the world in 20 minutes or less- the first of which involved zero pain medicine, “just because I wanted to know if I could do it” (diabolical). It’s how I survived sleepless night after sleepless night as a mother- not yet single, but still rearing in the singular; or forced myself to write throughout the night until morning so I could homeschool my girls by day. Without the ability to put mind over matter, I am literally without matter, because I am no longer “me.”
This is why I am the most horrendous sick person you will ever meet. You know the sick people we want to know? Who graciously accept home-cooked meals from neighbors whilst quilting inspirational words of wisdom on feather dusters and raising money for charity without a single complaint? Yeah, I am not one of those people. Don’t worry- I have a long life ahead of me and am not going to accept any less, but when in the past my concept of “fighting” was breaking ground, creating art, changing policy, or standing on a soap box (and now it’s making sure I take all my pills in a day without throwing them up)… I don’t feel like a fighter. Sick people are supposed to be brave, and enlightened, and peaceful. They’re supposed to do spontaneous things that remind everyone else how fleeting life can be (hello, new tattoo), or smile warmly amid the pain because they are secretly masochistic. Me? I’m a giant jerk-wad. I feel useless… I feel less than… I feel like someone else. I don’t feel like a “fighter” when I spend $400 a month on prescriptions alone, or have had an IV needle in my chest for three weeks out of this month, or keep losing weight while I’m spooning mayo (but all I really want to do is sleep). I’ve had the “yuckiness” most of my life and lived it to the fullest, but nothing could prepare me for when the “yucky” inserted itself towards my identify, and my mind couldn’t master the matter any longer.
To be fair, sometimes I think that the “just keep swimming” mentality of my past, makes it physically impossible to be accepting of my physical present. Recently, someone I love asked me to redefine my identity. If I identified myself as “five steps ahead” person before… who am I now that I’m sick, without respite in sight? Although my new goal should be getting better- I want to be five steps ahead!!!- if the cold, stark reality is that there may not be a clear cut ‘better’, but rather a balancing and dealing of sorts… how do I identify? Lately, my goals are things like “making it up the flight of stairs at night so I don’t have to sleep on the couch with oxygen again” or “telling a story for more than 60 seconds without getting out of breathe.” There are no fancy board-rooms… there are no red carpets… there are no tiny infants to nurse in the night… there are no stages in need of a pirouette. I have lived a great many lives in my life, but this one is proving to be the hardest.
This is a life of humility– accepting help from my fiancée so I can stand up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. This is a life of zero pride– ignoring the enemas, and scoping sessions, and mucus beat downs from strangers I barely know when I’m feeling my worst. This is a life of patience– of realizing that no matter how painful a jog used to be for my lungs… it literally cannot happen at this moment, no matter how hard I try, or want it, or push, or ignore. This is a life of waiting– of hoping that medications will evolve, that discussions will press forward- all the while stomaching the truth that being my “personal best” right now is last week’s “personal worst”.
Life is all about the incline, right? It’s about moving forward, it’s about making mistakes, it’s about feeling as much as we can while we can. So when a human being finds themselves on the uncontrollable decline… where do we find our sense of self? If anything, a life of messiness (and yes, yuckiness) has taught me who I am and what I want, but what I’m capable of right now is a completely different thing. Therefor, if I were to redefine my identity now, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I’m a mother first and foremost, and that will never change or deter or soften. There is nothing I can’t overcome in the world of being a mom… and that’s just a fact. I’m a lover (insert former SNL, Will Ferrell skit now). I have never known love as unconditional as I share now, and I will spend the rest of my being trying to find the words to suffice my appreciation, admiration, respect, and our mutual discomfort with gushy sentences like this one. I’m a teacher, a dancer, a writer: those things will never change, and if anything, my passion is stronger (and less rational) now than ever before.
So, in summation… what do I have left with which to identify? Words. If anything, and in the least, I want to continue to find my words. To pen when it’s too painful… to jot when it’s too daunting… to express in the hopes that others- anyone– is sharing the mutual emotive connectedness that (to me) denotes spirituality and higher powers more than a building, or a culture, or a single set of beliefs. I want to finish my unfinished novels and never stop trying to publish (even if no one reads them other than my Dad). I want to find words with meaning, and give words that help, and say words that shouldn’t go left behind.
I am a terrible sick person, yes… but I’m a terrible person with words, and in the end… that’s an incredibly powerful person too.
My triumphs may be stranger, embarrassments larger, and goals lower, but that never means that my words (or my love, or my life) should be any smaller.
So now it’s just up to me to accept, move forward, look up… and believe what I’m saying.
Health Sound Off: Have YOU ever felt this way?