“I knew, of course I knew, that life is always more complicated than our narratives.” – John Burnside, A Lie About My Father
Writing an illness is hard. Writing an illness for the humour section is even harder.
I am someone who prides herself on being rather breezy about the whole living with a chronic illness thing. And, as someone who cares so much about that, I sit in front of the computer and fret on that rare occasion that I write something serious about my health. It is rather important for me to have all of the heavy moments of my illness floating around serenely in a pool of cheerfulness. “Oh, that’s just an agonizing muscle spasm, don’t mind that, pass the chips!” is probably a sentence I have actually spoken to a friend. Is this a coping mechanism? I am sure that must have something to do with it. Kurt Vonnegut once said that “laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.” I’m with you there, Kurt. Of course I have my tears (my boyfriend can certainly attest to that), but I try my best to focus on the laughs, especially when I’m writing my illness. I would much rather have people going around saying “she had a bunch of needles stuck in her and she just cracked jokes about it,” instead of “there she goes again, complaining about needles.”
So I visit emergency rooms, I have a battery of tests done, I sit across from doctors who tell me they aren’t sure how to fix me, and then I write amusing little anecdotes about it online. I joke with my friends that I have a new disease every month, and maybe I should get a stamp card so that the tenth diagnosis gets me a free coffee. I log in to WordPress and I write things like “I was sick but that part of my sickness is over now so let’s laugh about it haha.” But, of course, it’s more complicated than that.
It wasn’t funny when I got called into a doctor’s office to be told about Multiple Sclerosis. It wasn`t funny to grieve for the loss of all that could have been, only to find out that grief can no longer be mine because it belongs to someone with lesions on their MRI and my results came back clean. It wasn’t funny when I was told it was another disease, and although I hesitated to begin the grieving process, I naturally began it anyway, only to have that one ripped from me too. It leaves this emptiness in you that should be filled with sadness, anger, denial, but ultimately acceptance. It leaves you on the sidelines while other people – people who are sick the way you are sick but who get names for their sickness – are getting support in the right places and treatment for the right problems. It’s not funny when you are unsure of who you really are.
But writing about that is just an absolute downer. Who wants to hear about a girl who doesn’t walk right and who doesn’t know why? Who wants to hear about a girl who keeps looking back through her medical journal to see if she forgot to write that something down that could have given her doctor answers? Who wants to go to the bookstore and buy a self-help book written by an undiagnosable?
So I write the funny instead. I doodle rainbows and puppy dogs in the margins of a rather serious memoir. I do it for me because it makes things easier and it allows me to tell my story without opening a huge window for pity to get in. But I do it for you too, because the truth hurts and the reason you click on my blog after googling “chronic illness” is because you are just trying to find an end to the pain. Of course, of course, I know that life is more complicated than my silly little hospital narratives. But in the end this is my story and I’ll be damned if I`m going to let some disease get in the way of it being a funny one.
[Memoir Madness Prompt]