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When You're 'the Sick One Now'

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In 2012, a month and a half after the birth of my daughter, I lost all feeling on the right side of my body in the shower.

A rushed trip to the ER led to few days in the hospital. Multiple meetings with the neurologist later, I was diagnosed with a transient ischemic attack, or “TIA.” In non-medical language, that means I had a mini-stroke. Blood flow to my brain was briefly blocked, but I didn’t experience any permanent damage. According to my doctor, I was “lucky it hadn’t been worse.”

The next months were a blur as I hopped from specialist to specialist, trying to pinpoint the root cause of my experience. It took 13 specialists in two countries almost two years to finally come up with a pair of accurate diagnoses: antiphospholipid antibody syndrome and adrenal insufficiency.

Running the gamut of the diagnostic experience was exhausting. My TIA happened while my family and I were living in the Netherlands and we moved back to the United States in the middle of the diagnostic process.

When I finally arrived “home” in California, my two kids and I moved in with my mom. I was so thankful for family support after living abroad. I had very little energy at that point to help my husband find and set up our new home. I needed a caregiver.

For the most part, my mom was a wonderful support during this confusing time. She helped watch the kids while I drove to appointments with doctors, she adjusted her work hours so I could rest. She made sure we all had healthy food to eat and that I didn’t have to cook it! I was, and continue to be, thankful for her willingness and ability to help out.

At one point during this process, I overheard my mom on the phone, talking to a relative. The person on the other end of the line needed my help with something apparently, and I don’t remember now what it is exactly they needed. But I’ll never forget the words I heard from my mom in response:

“Christa can’t help you. She’s the sick one now.”

It was devastating.

I’d never been “the sick one.” I’d always been “the Superwoman one.” The person in my family others could call on to pick up pieces, help out in pinches, and do whatever needed to be done to make things right in any given situation. It was a part of my identity I not only embraced as true, but loved. I saw myself as a strong and capable woman.

The comment was a brief moment in an otherwise beautiful time of support.

In a way, it’s funny that it continues to stick after all this time.

Chronic conditions have a way of sticking around, don’t they?

They change one’s identity. Chronic condition diagnoses can make us question everything we took for granted before. We wonder if we ever were “well” before. We wonder if we’ll ever be “well” again. We begin to wonder how we’ll continue to be who we are, or if we’ll even be able to retain our sense of identity.

Many times these musings and insecurities remain in our heads, but sometimes our loved ones speak them out loud.

When my mom called me “the sick one,” I lost a part of myself that had until that point kept me going. In one comment, I became someone new. No longer super, but sick.

Although my conditions are now fully in remission, that might not always be the case. They’re technically still with me. Between then and now, with the help of a gifted counselor, I’ve gained a new perspective on my conditions.

I don’t see them as “sicknesses” any longer. I see them as superpowers.

What my mom and I didn’t initially realize is that my conditions were setting me on a path to become a superhero.

Because of my conditions, I have a daily reminder of my own mortality.

I don’t tend to waste time, knowing that every minute of life is precious. I’m able to make every day count and find joy in the smallest of miracles. I’ve learned that there are many miracles in every minute. I notice them now with this magical gift of insight, and I’m able to point them out to others in my spheres of influence, lighting the way for them to learn to find their own.

Because of my conditions, I have a significantly higher degree of empathy.

I’ve learned on this journey through chronic illness that everyone has their own version of hard. It’s probably fair to say everyone these days has their own version of “sickness.” Whether it’s a compulsive habit, a substance abuse problem, an addiction to anger and bitterness, or a diagnosed chronic disease, everyone’s got something. Prior to my diagnoses, I didn’t watch for opportunities to be kind and listen for opportunities to sit and listen to someone else’s pain. I do now with this gift of the ability to listen between the lines of another’s life story.

Because of my conditions, I have a calling.

Before my TIA experience, I looked forward to the days my two kids would return to school. I thought that meant I’d jump back into the corporate communications career I’d loved prior to the birth of my first baby in 2009. My 2012 experience changed all that and pointed me in a new direction. I’m on a mission now: to help others walk their own hard journeys. Because of my conditions, I’m able to be a sidekick to others going through tough times.

It wasn’t an easy experience to overhear my mom’s phone conversation and it wasn’t an easy process of working my way through the hurt I felt. But the effort’s been more than worth it. I’m stronger now and more grateful.

If you’re reading this, I bet you have some superpowers within you too. You’ve clicked on this post, and I believe that means you’re ready to recognize that where others see “sick,” you see “super.” So go out and make the world a better place, dear one, and let your hero cape proudly fly!

Getty Image by sSplajn

Originally published: February 27, 2018
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