“I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, ‘Who in the world am I? Ah, THAT’S the great puzzle!’”
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
My mother ran a daycare in our house when I was growing up. When we would play Disney princesses, the other girls would quickly claim their favorite characters while I tried to find one who was suitable. “I want to be Alice,” I would say. I’m such an Alice. “This is only for princesses,” the girls would whine. I would choose someone else. It was easier than fighting.
We don’t always get to be the people we want to be in life.
Growing up, I wanted to be a doctor. I did all the things I was supposed to in order to achieve this goal – get a science degree, work in health care, take the MCAT, get recommendations. I did everything I was supposed to. But when it came time to apply, I was too sick to do it. This was years before I was diagnosed and was having increasingly strange issues. I did not want to be in a situation where I had to decline admission because of health issues.
So I went to grad school instead. I graduated both college and grad school young, and I figured there would be time to get healthy and go to medical school later. Time is so enormous when you’re young. It stretches out before you, overwhelming in its enormity.
And then one day you wake up and you’re 30 and you never got healthy enough to go to medical school. There is this idea that you can do whatever you want in life. That’s not really true. You can do whatever you want if you execute a series of decisions in a certain time frame.
It’s so hard to look back sometimes.
If there is any universal truth about chronic illness, it is that it changes you fundamentally. You can never again be the person you were before you got sick.
In some ways, I am grateful for this fact. There are a lot of things that I didn’t like about myself when I was younger. There are still some things I don’t like, but I am proud that these number far fewer. Being sick has made me more compassionate, less judgmental and more patient. Of course, I’m not always like this.
In 2012, I went to Seattle for my friend’s wedding. While there, I got very, very sick. I was fortunate to be travelling with a very old and dear friend who took care of me for the duration. I’m most fortunate that he put up with me. I am not fun to be around when I’m in pain. The desperation you feel when you’re suffering eliminates the mental route that takes you through manners and social graces. I was so heinous at the end of that trip, I am mortified looking back. Knowing that he forgives me and that we are still close friends does not negate the horror I still feel.
People say a lot that chronic illness molds you into a better person. I disagree. I think it splits your very nature in half: your best qualities amplified on your better days, your worst apparent otherwise. It is like sharing a body with doppelgangers, light and dark, never knowing which one will be behind your face.
Some people feel that because it is part of the disease, it is acceptable to lash out at those around them. And though I do it too, I disagree that it’s excusable. I don’t want it to be okay for me to be mean to my friends and family. I don’t want it to be an inherent part of a relationship with me. I am responsible for the damage I wreak, even if it’s not my fault.
Whether or not these behaviors are driven by illness, we are still responsible for the people we become. And though I never wanted to be this person, I am, and I am responsible for that.