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I'm Allowed to Feel Emotionally 'Weak' When I'm Sick

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I remember the day I was sitting in my last period French class, a week into my senior year of high school, when suddenly my vision blurred and it felt like someone stabbed a knife through the back of my skull. I excused myself from the room, and sat down on the floor of the hallway, scared because I was completely out of touch with my body. Little did I know, the next two years would be spent getting to know a new part of me, this new body – not loving it, not hating it, but living with it.

There’s this illusion that you have to live a life despite illness. My friends know that I joke saying I’m a 19-year-old stuck in the body of a 90-year-old, but I know that being sick is not my death sentence. If anything, it’s something that makes me get out of bed in the morning, because I know that there are days when that’s not possible.

When you get sick, whether physically or mentally, or often times, both, your life is suddenly expected to become inspiration porn. When you gather the courage to tell someone, they call you “strong,” a “fighter,” or tell you that “you’ll overcome this.” Your drawers become littered with get well soon cards holding messages about winning the fight, and you easily identify which stuffed animals were bought for you during which hospital stay.

I won’t lie about the fact that there are days that I have wished for a better understood illness. I’ve spent many nights awake, anger rushing through every vein, because it didn’t make sense why I was the one with this brain disorder. Doctors told me I was too young, I was “too skinny,” but yet I was here. No matter how hard I tried to convince myself otherwise, I knew that I wouldn’t hear the words, “We have a cure.”

I have also cried, wishing that I could speak of having spent time in a psychiatric hospital, deep in depression, without being faced with scared eyes, because those words carry a stigma that ties them to the ground. What I really want to scream out is that you do not have to overcome illness. It’s not about living a life despite illness. It’s about living a life with illness. I am my brain disorder. I am my mental illness. They are parts of me but they are not all of me.

I don’t think it’s impressive that I can go to school full-time while dealing with debilitating pain, days spent in bed, and hospital visits. I don’t think it’s impressive that I’m an English major who struggles with reading. In the past month, my first month back in university, I’ve been in more ambulances than Ubers. My arms are scattered with green and purple bruises from so many IVs, but every time I walk through campus, I take a deep breath because I realize how nice it looks in the fall – and every time I see a student sleeping in the library, I make sure to laugh a little bit. Sometimes, I find myself drowning in my body, barely able to see the shore, but I remember that it’s OK to merely stay afloat when it feels like you can’t swim.

You do not have to be a “fighter.” I have days where I wish someone would tell me that I’m allowed to be weak. Showing weakness does not make you any less strong. It’s not a battle. There is good intent behind “you can beat this,” but it’s not about winning or losing. It’s just about staying in the game. Illness changes you. Suddenly, you have to live with limitations that other people don’t have. I know that it feels like you have to overcome them. Except, ignoring your limitations because you think that you need to minimize them will only leave you more defeated. Your life does not have to equate someone else’s life.

I can accept that being “sick” sucks and still live a fulfilling life, one where I grow with my limitations, not despite of them.

Getty Image by MangoStar_Studio

This story originally appeared on Bela Deren.

Originally published: October 13, 2018
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