Please Don't Compare Me to Who I Was Before Chronic Illness
Imagine this: Somebody gives you a plant to look after and you try your best to care for it but still, it starts to die. Gradually turning an ugly shade of brown as leaves start to fall off and the stem starts to wilt. No matter how hard you try, you can’t save this plant, so you ask for help. Except, the person you ask for help only sees the healthy plant it was last week. Because of this their advice doesn’t work.
How frustrating would this be? People keep telling you to water the plant but you already tried this so people suggest you take it outside for some fresh air. But what good is this? The plant is dying – it needs something more than water; maybe all it needs is some additional nutrients to get it back onto the road to recovery. But people never took you seriously when you said your plant was dying, so now the plant is browning and weak, barely alive and starving.
The plant’s owner comes back and now they can see the mess their plant has become. They don’t want this plant. Constantly comparing it to what is was and how big and beautiful it was. They don’t want this dying plant. They can’t see how much time you took trying to get their plant well again. They can’t see the small buds forming. All they can see is what they lost. They don’t want this plant anymore.
Now imagine the plant is you. You couldn’t get the care you needed and now you’re weak, and you can’t do any of the things you could, but you’re still you. Positive, friendly and, most importantly, you’re still fighting. Then your friends and family visit and they don’t see anything good – just how frail and weak you have become. They don’t want to be around you anymore because you’ve changed, so they all leave, and now you’re sick and all alone.
This sounds horrible, doesn’t it? But unfortunately this is the reality for many chronically ill patients around the world. It’s why so many of us try and hide our pain, live with it until it pushes us to the edge, leave it until it’s far too late and we’re stuck in a constant cycle of self-hatred, pity and doubt. Trapped in the un-escapable prisons our own bodies have become.
My body is turning against me and I just want to be heard. I need my pain to be acknowledged before I can even come close to accepting my new reality. So please, when I say I can’t go out, don’t get annoyed at me because “you used to love coming out with us and now all you ever do is stay inside,” because I have enough guilt following me around without you adding to it. I hate that I’m not my old self, but living in the past isn’t helping anyone.
This guilt you keep tying to inflict onto me – I have enough of it already. I feel like I’ve become a burden on my family who now have to plan trips around whether or not I’ll be capable of making it out the house, or adding onto their workload by ferrying me between appointments and college. Then there’s the guilt I feel from having to cancel plans on loved ones. I hate it just as much as you do. I even feel guilty about going to school, like I’m wasting my education and my teachers’ time. There’s nothing I can do to stop this.
I miss the old me. I miss rock climbing and adventure. The closest I get to rock climbing is climbing the flight of stairs, but still, I can’t always make it. I miss all the foods I could eat without feeling nauseous, I miss the shoes I could wear and the freedom that comes with being well. I could do anything! But now, I can’t do any of it. I had the perfect future planned out: I was going to join the army or become a snowboarding instructor. Now I can’t do any of that. Now I’m lying in bed scared to move out of this position in case anything pops out of place.
So please, instead of reminding me of what I used to do, why not remind me of the things I can do? I can still be me, I can still have small adventures and I should definitely be able to get support from my friends.
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Thinkstock photo via greenaperture.