Are you someone who looks at Facebook pictures of wheelchair Olympians and women with breast cancer and cries, then leaves the house determined to seize every moment of that brand new day? If you are you should be aware that inspiration porn, like its sexual counterpart, is full of lies. Why? Because chronically ill people are real dicks. I know because I live with regular seizures and far from being a picture of courage and hope, I am frequently just an arsehole.
A chronic medical condition messes with your head and affects your mental health. This is in part because when anyone feels overtired or sickly, they are usually whiny, grouchy or just pissed off. Like most people I am patently aware that nobody actually likes these qualities in a person. Awareness of this makes me go crazy. I strongly suspect that I am hardly the only person with a medical condition who lives with these feelings and sometimes wonder what those posters and memes would say if they were truthful.
For instance, sickness has often lead me to the conclusion that “everybody will just hate me”. This is a manifestation of mental health’s worst enemy, Paranoia. When you think about it Paranoia is kind of like a conspiracy theory: there is an element of truth that leads things to become blown way out of proportion until the tiny kernel of truth becomes evidence that the most wildly exaggerated idea is truth. Is it conceivable that the world’s richest and most powerful people talk to each other and don’t broadcast it? If the Panama Papers are correct, Sure. Is it because they are all from the same family of lizard people who are plotting a one-world government? Many would argue, no.
Just like the lizard theory, it is highly likely that when you have any illness your cancelling of plans, grumpy mood, and venting about a topic that is objectively boring but a daily feature of your life has lost you friends. Particularly when everybody now believes that thinking positive and eating clean cure everything. For plenty of friends who adhere to this, it is confronting and distressing to see clear evidence that nothing is as simple as all that and there is a faint possibility that they may do everything right and wind up in your shoes. Plus you are already a horrible person, as previously mentioned. It stands to reason that under these circumstances some friends do run for the hills.
Paranoia will take this reality and convince you that you literally ooze negativity and poison. So every minor rejection leads to a sense that you are universally loathed and that the people who do bother with you secretly wish they never have to see you again.
Paranoia is coupled with it’s ADHD kid brother, Anxiety. Because even when you are well the next seizure/hypoglycaemic episode/benign lump turning cancerous may truly be just around the corner. Knowledge of this is not power, it is fear. Remember the kid who on long car journeys would just ask,
“Are we there yet are we there yet are we there yet”
Until some adult snapped and yelled at them?
Imagine that kid is now rocking back and forth speaking at a million miles an hour in your head when you are trying to concentrate on some responsible adult job. Perhaps you are preparing for an important presentation, or maybe you are working toward some vital deadline. And Anxiety arrives to pester you. He sounds like this:
“Are you gonna have another seizure? What if it is at work? Like in front of that boss you hate and you piss your pants but you don’t even know because you are having a seizure and you can’t get a cab home because you stink of urine and the driver will probably charge you a soiling fee, so you have to get the bus and you will be stared at on the bus because you smell like a homeless person. Remember that one time when that happened? Remember how mortified you were? Plus you were feeling groggy so could barely figure out how to get home and it was like being an escaped dementia patient. That was only the worst day ever. You will just die if it happens again. It might happen today during the presentation. Then you will have to resign in shame. You won’t have any money and will have to move because you can’t pay rent. Sure you will sell all of your designer shoes and survive for a little while but then you will be homeless or maybe you will have to live with your parents. As a grown-arse woman. Or one of those boarding houses for crazy people. I hear the crappy locks on those places mean that women get raped. Or at least robbed. Or maybe just ridiculed. Which will happen anyway as you carry all of your possessions in one of those striped homeless-lady bags. You know what is not good for epilepsy? This kind of stress. Just sayin’….. ”
Anxiety can go on at you for hours.
The third sibling in this family of mental decay is Grief. Grief is a snivelling whiner who will only stop crying to open the door to the pizza guy, or to face the checkout at the bottle shop. Every time you are presented with a situation that highlights to you that your life does not look the way you imagined or planned, Anxiety tells you that he told you so, takes a nap and lets Grief take his place. When this happens you kind of miss Anxiety because at least he had pep. Grief is a stubborn little bastard that won’t be consoled for love nor money. While Marie Calvet had a point when she said that “not every little girl can do what she wants; the world cannot support that many ballerinas,” most people who become ill or disabled can watch their most mundane and reasonable hopes and dreams go up in smoke. Like reconsidering the idea of finding a life partner because there is a good chance that someone will eventually be saddled with a woman with the intellectual age of six. Or losing the looks that defined you as conventionally pretty and feeling like you should be grateful for your life but missing the beautiful hair. Or taking for granted the idea that a university education and middle class background means you will be highly employable until you find yourself cut out of half of the jobs in your field. These losses make people sad and before too long the sadness can feel like it is strangling them. Sometimes feisty types pretend the Grief is really Anger, and this protects them from Pity but it terrifies people who distance themselves and invites the dreaded Paranoia back. Then they get to do it all again.
If you do know someone who is ill or has been diagnosed with some dastardly health condition, this might explain why they are underwhelmed by the hollow platitudes that have become obsequious on Facebook. But this irritable glass half empty curmudgeon will also be the friend who stays with you when your world falls apart and you start behaving like a seething ball of Rage and Insanity.
published 25 May 2016