Illness can tell us who we are.
In the past, illness spoke to me in tones I didn’t always comprehend, defining my life in a series of doctor’s rooms, imposed limitations and consequently missed opportunities. Illness has taken my time, my energy, and my hope, all by the words others often used to try to define the experience for me.
Until I learned how to define “illness” for myself.
The very first disease I can recall was Henoch Schonlein’s Purpura. Something I contracted at the age of four which caused every major organ (from my skin to my kidneys) to become inflamed and bleed beneath the surface, out.
I’ve never been the same since. All I can remember is one night waking up with cheetah print blotches covering my flesh and unable to move my limbs. My parents flicked the light on, and I stood screaming in shock. While the pain and treatment took two months to both finish their course, I only remembered that one night when it all began.
This Friday, I face a surgery that without a doubt, will also be an incredibly painful, and momentarily debilitating moment in my life and I’m thinking of the familiar yearning to escape my body.
Something I’ve learned in all the sickness throughout my life is how to approach it. How to converse with my afflictions so I could make sense of their purpose. When dis-ease speaks to me now, I like what it has to say about who I am.
The following is a poem I wrote after my first surgery on this current affliction. I’d been reflecting, for some time, on how old I’d been feeling. More than my 33 years, unattractive, and like life, my youth and my femininity were passing me by.
While in bed, I began to think of my relationship with myself as a marriage, and I wanted to renew the commitment — whether in sickness or in health– to keep living. To refuse to wither away in either condition.
This poem is a reflection from my bed of both the desire for a normal life (whatever that looks like) and a growing appreciation for every knock I’ve taken.
Illness can tell us who we are, and my illness has told me that in weakness I’ve found my greatest strengths. In physical frailty, I grow more emotionally enlightened. For it is by misfortune I have been bathed in gold.
I like that story, I like the language of it.
I want to wear a floral blouse, doused in hibiscus-scented perfume. A Cleopatra stare, bracelet bangles, with bangs that jut over my eyes. I want to grow my hair long, curl the tips, gloss my lips, and be the girl I haven’t been since I was 21.
I want to be fun.
But would I trade a new shade of “Perfect Peach” or a long walk with ‘so and so’ on the beach to feel like I was younger than; or as young as I actually am?
No. I like who I am. I like the bitter, like the sweet, and all the things that have made me me, none of which came in
Lace, gold, mesh, or flesh. No.
I like my soul.
It cannot be bought, sold, it doesn’t grow young or old. It just was, is, forever will be