Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I Can't Feel My Foot, But It Itches: Adventures In Sickness

I haven't been feeling well lately. The symptoms are vague (except for occasionally not being able to feel my foot, save the unmerciful itching, but I don't think there is a name for that), but I am miserable, and spend most of my energy trying to sleep, trying to stay awake, or trying to eat. This feeling (not the foot part) overtakes me several times a year, usually just after I have started making progress toward a goal; the dragging end to many of my beginnings. I think this is coincidental, as it happens so often, by the time I have regained some kind of human functioning and stepped toward progress, it returns.

I have semi-joked about having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (the "Sick and Tired" episode of The Golden Girls pretty much sums up my life with doctors, except for the end where Dorothy finally finds someone competent), but have dismissed the notion as hypochondria. Every time I get into this state, the idea resurfaces. Having an already diagnosed chronic illness makes it far less like that I will be diagnosed with another one, even if it makes it more likely that I have one. Autoimmune disorders like company ( and migraines seem to be their BFF). Doctors don't believe women with unverifiable symptoms.

I can deal with the pain, I spend almost every moment of my life in pain. The issue is the lethargy. My brain races with things I want desperately to do, but there are days I cannot get out of bed, and nights when I can't get up off of the couch to go to bed. The situation has become downright Proust-ian, except that I am usually too tired to write, and I'm not a literary genius. Overlooking those small details, it is uncanny.

Chronic lethargy leads to chronic underachievement. Luckily for me, both conditions lead to being considered a scourge on society. We put incredible value on achievement and work ethic, and disparage anyone unable to live up to absurd expectations. There is no empathy for those unable to achieve, as the American Dream is dependent on the belief that everyone is not only equal, but the same; that we are all capable of the similar achievement. This idea is complete crap, but no one wants you to know that. Why? Successful people want to think that their accomplishments are based solely on their ability to be awesome, rather than luck or chance*. Everyone else wants to believe that they too can work hard and do well.

So, I am lazy and unmotivated. There have been times in my life where I was very, very sick, and no one believed me. I was tormented, teased, harassed, and called out by family, friends, teachers, and doctors. My grandma nearly had my mom convinced that I was stealing her medication. I've been told to buck-up and quit faking. I've been yelled at in the school cafeteria by an overzealous administrator. Later, in his office, he had me in tears as he told me that everyone else has migraines, that everyone else is able to go to school, to function at high levels while having said migraines, and that I should just drink a Pepsi and move on. You know, like everyone else does. He also told me that I needed to come to school even if I was in pain, he told me this as my head was throbbing, my brain misfiring. It was the first day in a month I had been able to get out of bed and that the pain had dropped below the level at which I was positive I was dying. I still haven't had my migraines properly treated, and I put off treatment for many years because he had convinced me that I was of normal health, but of abnormal constitution.

These messages are why I consider myself a failure, rather than a sick person. Sick people are honored for being victims, as the word victim has become synonymous with hero. I am obviously, then, not a sick person. I am a failure. Until I am able to convince myself, that I am of abnormal health, and that being of abnormal constitution is not morally offensive, I will continue to see myself in that light. I'm not sure why I'm unable to extend myself the same consideration that I give to others, but it too is a chronic problem.

I have a lot of work to do.

* I vaguely remember an interview Oprah Winfrey did with Bill Gates where she talks about how she got to where she is purely on her own, no luck or help involved, and Gates stuck firm to the notion that he was lucky as hell. Guess which of the two I respected more after that interview. Inability to acknowledge privilege is a sign that you don't understand it, and I was shocked that the man wielding so much more of it had a better grasp. I think maybe she doesn't realize how much she has since she hasn't really lived in the real world recently.

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