You're Allowed to Mourn If Your Life Has Been Undone by Illness
Last week, I went to my annual work conference. I stayed all three days. The hotel where the conference was held is older, with pride of place in the city where it stands. There are two sides to the hotel, situated on each side of a busy downtown street. This means a lot of walking. Walking that’s no longer easy for me, as each step takes more effort than it used to, and the pain is constant. It could be something as “simple” as my bad ankle locking up/hitching as I step, or it could be the all-over body aches and rubbery muscles that threaten to drop me to the ground in a heap.
Hotels are often plagued with issues, too. Like elevators/escalators that don’t work, or maybe the entire floor’s public use seating being removed for replacement and no replacements yet delivered. Both of those things happened during my conference, like a mean kid prank on a grander scale.
It also means, as it does every year, that I’m going to catch something at the conference and end up sick the week after. It never fails. When your body is intent on destroying itself from the inside from your autoimmune system gone haywire, it doesn’t take much to upset the precarious balance of day-to-day life. This time, it took the form of a gastric bug that left me vomiting for nearly a week and barely able to eat enough to take my twice-daily handfuls of medications.
Today I finally returned to work, hopeful, since my soup the night before had stayed down and the granola bar I’d eaten so I could take my morning meds seemed OK with staying put. A co-worker stopped by my office to say hello and welcome me back from my impromptu “vacation” and commented on a post I’d made to my personal Facebook page during the first night of the conference where I’d said I was once again realizing that the life I thought I’d had was over, and until I get worse — bad enough for the damage to start to show up more in my blood work, X-rays and lab results – there was nothing more to be done to treat the constant pain.
My co-worker was sympathetic, but taken aback at what I’d said. “You said your old life was over,” he said, with his brow creasing. “It is,” I said. An unread question seemed to hang in the air between us. How can you sit there, calm and even smiling a bit and tell me your life is over, he seemed to say. You look fine. You’re suitably dressed for work, your hair is washed and styled, your makeup on. You seem like your usual workday self, as you have for the years you’ve worked here.
But I’m not. I wear pull-over dresses and leggings most days, because the textures are soft and they are easier for me to wear. I wear sensible shoes, no heels, nothing fancy. Shoes that can be slipped into, because my hands don’t always want to work in the morning, let alone my hips, knees or ankles. Even these shoes cause me pain, but it’s less pain than my old fancy shoes. This is my new life, and it’s only going to continue from here. There’s no getting off this ride.
I deal with things. I adapt. I put on a brave face and push myself to keep doing things I used to do as much as I can. Simple things, like walking through a grocery store, or mopping my floors, or going to work. I don’t have much of a choice. I’m what I’ve got, when it comes to day-to-day life. But that doesn’t mean the toll it’s taking isn’t getting larger, because it certainly is.
I never imagined at the age of 42 this is where I’d be, but I am. Mourning for a life that, as far as I know, still has time left on the clock, but in many ways has ended compared to able-bodied people my age. There’s a mourning for that life, a grieving I keep hidden away from people, like a dirty secret. Like I’m being ungrateful because it could be worse. As though there’s some kind of award for taking it all in stride and never bothering people with my troubles.
That’s what makes my saying “the life I had is over” such a shocking thing to say. But should it be? I don’t think so. Grieving is a part of life. It’s allowed. Whether it’s for the death of a loved one, the loss of a chance you missed or a life you had – until one day, you didn’t. So let people mourn for the life undone, and let yourself grieve too. You’re worth it. You’re due.
This post originally appeared on Medium.
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Thinkstock photo via stevanovicigor.