This is the first year I can honestly say I wasn’t excited about my birthday. It’s not about my age – I’m 31 this year. It’s not exciting, it isn’t a milestone, and I’m not the sort of person who feels a stigma with getting older. The number of years I’ve lived in no way reflects the quality of my life or my value to society. It’s just that this year, I feel a bit defeated.
I’ve taken to seeing birthdays as a time to assess my my previous goals and to set new ones. I wonder, am I where I wanted to be at this point? Am I on a path to somewhere else I’d like to be? What can I do to get there? Questions like that.
At this point, I’ve definitely achieved some lifetime goals I set long ago. I bought a house before I turned 30 (well, the bank mostly owns it, but I have a decent stake in my house and I get to do whatever I want with it). I work with animals, both wild and domestic. We are at a point where we don’t struggle financially. These are all very good things.
The goal that I have massively failed to achieve is good health. I had the opportunity to live with my maternal grandparents when I was in high school, and I learned then the importance of preventing disease. My grandparents were both victims of heart disease and diabetes. I say “were” because they are both dead. My paternal grandfather also died relatively young due to a lifetime of abusing his body with alcohol and cigarettes. I’m very good at learning from others’ examples, and I took from them that I must take care of myself if I want to have any quality of life as I age.
The catch is, I got sick anyway. I don’t think the lesson I should take is that it doesn’t matter, that I’m going to get sick no matter what I do, so I might as well be reckless. I certainly have taken the lesson that life isn’t fair and sometimes no matter how hard I try, there are some things that are not meant for me. Good health is one of them.
So now I’m trying to learn what my value is now that I am no longer productive. I’m trying to learn to live within some very strict confines of my chronic illness. I’m trying to learn how to overcome my limits and achieve something noteworthy anyway. To tell the truth, this is not an easy task, but I never back down from something because it isn’t easy.
So this year, I plan to set some very lofty goals. I’ll list them, in the order that they come to mind:
- Stay on top of my health. I’m working long-distance with Dr B, and so long as he’s committed to the task, I will be, too. Before he left I asked if he understood what he was getting into, that I was likely to be sick the rest of my life and that while I may be able to stabilize, it’s unlikely that I will ever be cured. He is aware. I told him that if he did this with me, he was stuck with me for life. I asked if he was sure he really wanted that. He said he was sure, that he is happy to have me in his life. Good man. I feel that if someone else wants to invest that much in me, that the least I could do is put in my best effort.
- Resume my old life with modifications for the realities of my new condition. I liked traveling before I was sick. I still like knitting. I love my kittens. I love making new friends. I enjoy giving of myself to others. I’m going to resume these things, understanding that I may not be able to do any of them quite as much or intensely as I used to. I will find a way.
- Let go of my guilt. This might sound odd, but a lot of things I used to consider luxuries have become necessities to me. I have some bit of moral code that says I should not indulge myself when there are others who need things more than me. For example, I feel guilty getting massages on a regular basis when there are people who could use the money I spend there to eat. What I’ve started to realize is that by paying someone to perform this service for me, I am giving them the money they need to eat and a dignified means through which to obtain that money. It is a fair exchange, and getting something good out of it shouldn’t be something I’m ashamed of.
- Make the fact that I got sick mean something. I’ve done a bit of research into the plight of people with chronic disease. I’ve learned that many of the other people in my boat have the same challenges I do. They are dismissed by doctors, they are made to feel worthless by society, and they just want to feel like they aren’t alone. At this point, I am not so far gone that I can’t do something to raise awareness of this situation. I can write books. Maybe I can do talks about it. I think the talks would be incredibly useful – to show up somewhere and look like I do, like I’m not sick, and tell people about the reality of my situation. Teach them that there are others just like me who they might be judging as lazy or mentally ill, when in reality they have a very real physical problem that just isn’t understood well.
I’m not sure how realistic any of the goals I’ve set are going to be. The important part is that I have goals, reasons to get out of bed in the morning (or afternoon, or evening, as the case may be).
This all sounds like a lot of work. I think I’m going to need a nap.