Sunday, September 16, 2012
One of These Things is Not Like the Other
I don’t know how true this is for any other 20-something-year-old with a chronic illness, so I will not pretend to speak for everyone. Instead, as I always try to do, I will speak for myself.
I am different than my healthy peers. There is something beyond bowels and bloodwork and PICC lines that is essentially different about me, making me no better or worse, just different. I am not my disease, but the experiences that Crohn’s exposed me too have become so entangled that I am somewhere in the middle, that grey, unmapped, undiscovered territory. It’s much more of a psychological difference for me, and sometimes I think that if it were possible to peel the core of who I am away from my body, the difference would be as clear as night and day. But it’s an invisible difference, one I can only feel.
When I was about five years old, my family was at a beach on vacation. I was waddling into the water, likely looking out at a dock in the distance or a seagull overhead, when, from behind, my Mom snatched me up. She was relieved to have caught me since the shallow water was full of leeches swirling around my feet. But the thing was that I had been completely unaware of the leeches, oblivious to the hurt that could have been in store for me. When you know the floor under your feet may break at any moment, you walk more carefully than if you didn’t know, even if the floor is just as dangerous. And that’s what it’s like - I have a sense of hesitation when it comes to health, having been humbled by the body I could not control. My friends and classmates have a fearless faith in terms of their health, a faith I cannot pretend to have ever truly known or understood.
Maybe this is why I love meeting others with chronic illnesses so much, because there’s something untranslatable that they understand, and the differences we have from our healthy peers is absorbed or neutralized in one another’s presence. For a long time I think I wanted to be normal, to do normal things and to feel normal things and to be a normal kid. But having a chronic illness changes you - but what it changes is up to you.
I am different from lots of people. I’m different from my sister because she doesn’t like chickpeas, I’m different from my friend because I have brown hair, I’m different from my roommates because I’m a little older than they are. I may be different from you because I have a dog, or can’t sing, or have never been to California, or because I work in a preschool. And yes, I’m different than some because I have Crohn’s and an ostomy. But we have to remember that ‘different’ and ‘bad’ are not synonyms, we’re all different from each other in some ways.
Your bones may shape your body, but your heart shapes your life.