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How 'The Wizard of Oz' Represents Life With Chronic Illness

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Growing up my mother was “The Wizard of Oz” obsessed. We watched the movie more times than I can count and my house was full with knick knacks and treasures that were “The Wizard of Oz” themed. I can recite the movie word for word.

Over time I guess her obsession somewhat rubbed off on me and when she died I tried to carry on her tradition of loving the movie into my own life. I sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to put my children to sleep as babies and often quoted many lines from the movie. My mother always compared herself to Dorothy, in some way, she never really felt she fit in anywhere and was always searching for her “somewhere over the rainbow.” I like to think she has found it now that she has passed on.

A few years back, after multiple surgeries for my endometriosis, I started referring to myself as the “Tin Man” because “soon I would be hollow inside.” With my next surgery just around the corner, I referred to myself that way again and something dawned on me that I had never realized. Living with chronic illness can be compared to the “The Wizard of Oz” in so many ways.

Dorothy’s character is misunderstood. Her family and friends in the beginning do not believe her. She is trying to defend herself and explain what she knows is the truth and no one is really listening. They push her away without meaning to, causing her to run away. The rest of the movie all she wants to do is get back home. She wants her life back. Her happiness. But there are so many obstacles in the way keeping her from getting there. This is us. The chronically ill. No one believes how much pain we are in. Our friends and family push us away without meaning to because they just do not understand us. Once we distance ourselves all we want is for our lives to be normal again. To be pain free. Healthy. Happiness.

The Wicked Witch seeks vengeance on Dorothy. The entire movie she torments her, always showing up just when Dorothy thinks she has gotten a few steps ahead. She ruins everything. Repeatedly. She will stop at nothing. Her mission is to destroy Dorothy. This is our illness. Constantly reminding us that we are sick. When we have good days it sneaks up on us and attacks at the most inopportune times. Relentless. The villain of our lives.

Glinda the Good Witch appears and gives Dorothy the tool to succeed. The ruby slippers. She tells her she will know how to use them when the time is right. She has them to protect her. That the Wicked Witch cannot harm her while she is wearing them. Glinda plays the doctors in our lives and the ruby slippers are the medicine. The “tool” to keeping us “safe” from further damage. Our shield, in a way, that we “wear” to get by.

The Scarecrow complains of not having a brain. He sings about all the things he wishes he could do…if he only had a brain. Brain fog is one of the most common side effects of most chronic illness. People that have never had brain fog truly can never understand the severity of it. Forgetfulness. Constantly losing your train of thought. Inability to focus. Nothing can hold your attention for very long. Having to constantly redo things because you are unsure if you have already done it. For me, this is one of the worst parts of being sick.

The Tin Man started out as a joke for me, since I have had multiple surgeries removing organs attacked by endometriosis…my uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, gallbladder, a chunk of my liver and most recently my ovaries. I kid that I am “empty” inside since so much has been removed, but metaphorically I think most chronically ill would agree that we all feel empty at times. When you have given all you can, used all your strength, and it’s only noon. When you try so hard to explain to your friends, family and even doctors what you are feeling but no one truly understands. When you have to decline to that event you were looking forward to for months because the pain and exhaustion is just too severe. You come up…empty. Hollow.

The Cowardly Lion in the movie represents our fears and the key to finding our courage. So many days I wake up in fear of what the day is going to bring. How much will I be able to accomplish before the pain is overbearing and stops me? How many more friends will I lose because I can never attend their events? What if this medicine, treatment, or surgery doesn’t work? Will I be in pain the rest of my life? Our illnesses have caused so many worries. The one thing I have learned is that the only way to get through each day is one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. Make our weaknesses our strengths. I have a chronic illness. But I am not my illness. I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a daughter. A friend. A writer. A warrior.

And finally the great Wizard of Oz. The whole movie you are expecting some magical creature or mystical being. Who is this great wizard? Only to find out he is just a regular man hiding behind a curtain. He is not magical or mystical. He is not powerful. He is an illusion. And all along the power was within Dorothy and her friends the whole time. She had the strength inside of her to get back “home.”

The wizard teaches us a very important lesson. No matter what life throws at you, no matter how bad things may seem, have faith in yourself and just believe you can get through it. Our illness does not define us. We cannot hide behind our illness afraid to live! There is no magical force that will save us. The power is within us to “save” ourselves. We have to be our own advocates. We have to keep pushing through and never give up hope. Some days will be worse than others. We cannot accept that our fate is to be sick. We have to continue to find ways to survive. Educate ourselves. Inspire others. Never give up. Remind ourselves what we were like before we were in constant pain.

So put on your ruby slippers and click your heels three times and say it with me, ”There’s no place like home.”

Image courtesy of the “The Wizard of Oz” Facebook page

Originally published: July 6, 2018
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