Me la cavo. I’m coping.
Not everybody does, and I’m lucky to be among those who are able to self-manage their medical issues. But it’s unfortunate to have medical issues at all. (Don’t worry. No gross medical photos await you.)
I’ve been discussing this topic a few times this week with different folks. It interests me that, psychologically, we all think we’re pretty invincible and take it for granted that we’ll be fully functional until our fifties, and hopefully our sixties, but at least our forties.
I think it comes as a huge shock to most people in their late twenties – I make this assumption based on the fact that I was one – who discover they have a medical condition that impacts on their day-to-day quality of life, and doesn’t go away like pretty much everything else they’ve experienced in their lives so far. To those who are pain-free and disease-free in their thirties, I wish I could say that there wasn’t a little tiny part of me that’s watching you and waiting for you to join us – it’s great, come experience life.
Baby’s first illness was psoriasis. I’ve been dealing with this nightmare condition for years now, and it is one of the few things I would never wish on my worst enemies (I usually fantasise about melodramatically slapping them and pushing them down the stairs, like in a telenovela).
At first, they thought it was something else – pityriasis rosea, but no one had ever seen it like I had it. It wasn’t until I got a fourth opinion from a GP in the surgery near my parent’s house that I got a diagnosis and the beginning of a treatment plan.
I also have IBS. It’s a ‘syndrome’ because they don’t know what’s causing it, rather than a ‘disease’, like Crohn’s, or coeliac (I’ve been tested for these). IBS made being a teacher very, very difficult, because as the responsible adult in a science classroom, one has to constantly be on the alert for pyromaniac students, glassware smashers and general misdemeanours in a dangerous environment filled with fire, sharps, and poison. Thus, I couldn’t ever leave my classroom.
The regimented student day leaves no room for emergent ‘situations’ (to avoid the unpleasant ‘D’ word, comedian Felicity Ward euphemistically refers to IBS attacks as ‘closing down sales’ because ‘EVERYTHING MUST GO’. I love this joke and I will be spreading it everywhere. Uh, phrasing… #sorrynotsorry). These situations would sometimes leave me doubled over a desk in pain having to continue teaching a lesson because there wasn’t any cover available.
Teaching left me with more scars than that, I’m sorry to say, but staying on theme, I also developed Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in my right wrist after attempting to mark too many books in one sitting while stressed and gripping my pen far too tight. I ended up wearing a wrist brace for several months afterwards and still suffer from ‘off days’ when I can’t type, write, or play the piano effectively. Fortunate then that the latter hobby has fallen by the wayside a little. Also stopped me progressing with things like aerial hoop and silks because I just can’t grip. Insert self-love joke here.
I also battle depression. This is not so much a physical inflammatory condition as it is a mental one, obviously, but I’m grouping it with the others because it works in a similar way. I’m generally fine, but there’s the odd day or week where it’s like some sort of gland is inflamed, and then I don’t make enough serotonin (or something).
For those who are unfamiliar with ‘spoon theory’ (and recent discussions reveal that fewer people know about this than I assumed), people who suffer from chronic disease (mental or physical) have come to define the key problem with such debilitation is in the way they randomly limit your capacity to do everyday tasks. It’s called spoon theory because the alleged inventor of said theory was conducting their initial explanation in a cafe and spoons were the counters that were available. For example: you start the day with n spoons. You might not know how many that is, at first. You want to get out of bed? It’ll cost you a spoon. Have a shower? Another spoon. Make dinner? Trickier, but you like it, so I’ll do you a deal. Four spoons. Tidy the kitchen? That’ll cost ya. Six spoons. Have you run out? Then you can’t do that thing.
Fortunately, you can increase your spoon collection, like you can in real life. Medications, cognitive training techniques, appropriate exercise, being healthy, and so on all help. Just like they do my other inflammatory conditions – though one must take particular care of medications. Steroids are so often used in the treatment of chronic inflammation, and I suffer from terrible rebound when taken off them!
I blame the Victorians for this. It wasn’t just sex they repressed, but the art of frank conversation, which has seriously disabled our ability to problem solve collectively, and hindered medical advancement as we are too embarrassed or scared to visit the doctor’s. I mean, I jest – it wasn’t just them. But wouldn’t we all be in a much better position if we could just discuss our problems openly without fear of reproach, in the knowledge that our friends, family, colleagues, and those in public service were actually interested enough in our welfare, or at the very least in solving some problems?