Friday, September 20, 2013

Being Strong

I was searching through some papers the other day, and came across my old essays and assessments from when I was at drama school. A ridiculous amount of nostalgia took over, and I abandoned my search in order to read them.

I was 19 when I was at drama school. I was pretty ill, though I didn’t know what with yet, and each day it was getting worse. I read the assessments, and comments on the essays, with a certain level of trepidation. My memory of them was that they were pretty negative, especially in regards to the growing health problems.

As I read through, there was definitely a theme – every tutor had made mention of my illness, but with some distance I was able to see the comments more clearly. Reading these comments, aged 19 with a serious illness looming over me, I discounted all the positive things focusing only on the negatives and qualifying statements. I saw every time my health was mentioned as discounting anything complimentary said before i.e. “She might have the potential to be good, but she’s sick so she can’t possibly be good at anything.”

Reading over them now, I can see that yes, some of the statements were questioning whether I would be able to push through the health problems enough to make it in a tough industry, and others were indeed qualifiers to positive statements made. But many of the comments about my health were actually intensifying the positives. The gist was that it’s not actually that easy to do well in a demanding course anyway, but when you add an illness into that mix working hard to do well is even more of an achievement.

I always feel like a bit of a fraud when people tell me I’m strong, or brave. I often have to bite down on comments about how I’m actually just treading water through most days in the hopes that I can get through them. Sometimes I feel like telling people the only reason I seem strong is that I have my exhausted fall-apart meltdowns in private before I leave the house or after I get home, so I can pretend to be brave while I’m out. I feel like if people saw how I am when they’re not around, they’d think I was weak and pathetic.  

These last few weeks, as the pain and swelling in my hands has gotten worse, it’s been especially easy to slip into thinking of myself as weak. A few weeks ago, I found myself locked out of my apartment, not because I didn’t have my keys with me but because I couldn’t manage to turn them in the lock. A few days later, I spilt a cup of boiling water down myself, because my grip wasn’t strong enough to keep hold of it. Both instances left me feeling anything but strong, but with a bit of distance I realised I was adding in more negatives than there really were. Loosing function in a part of your body is hardly something that’s generally associated with being strong. But getting up and carrying on with life even though that function is gone, and things are getting harder, does take strength. A lot of it. I might feel pathetic for loosing the strength in my hands, but I wonder how many people reading this are thinking “I’ve spilt boiling water on myself before, and I don’t even have bung hands.”

Participating in real life is hard – not just if you have an illness but always. Life is complicated, and confusing and exhausting. It would be easy to check out, and say “I’m ill and I don’t want to.” I know I for one consider it often. Having an illness doesn’t make you strong. The fact that you keep trying, despite the fact that it’s hard, does.

Thanks for reading,
Little Miss Autoimmune