Living My (Grandma's) Best Life
I have officially become my grandmother.
I know all girls worry about becoming their mothers, which is fair, but to be honest my mom gets more shit done in a day than an entire olympic curling team, so becoming her would not be that bad. I would make a really great omelet.
But I have surpassed my mother and skipped straight to my Gramma. My Gramma, may she rest in peace, was a lovely woman at her best and a wildly stubborn one at her worse. She was tenacious as hell and in my memories, always incredibly tough. She was also always ill.
From the time she was a toddler, my grandmother suffered from a wide array of disabilities–– so wide, in fact, we’re not even quite sure we know what all was included in her diagnosis. She grew up sick, and it only worsened as she got older. I have plenty of great memories of time spent with my Gramma, but in none of them is she healthy.
And in only the way a child can, my memories were also supremely about how all of this affected ME. I often dreaded calling my Gramma up to say hi because the conversations were never pleasant–– they were always about how bad she was feeling. Seven-year-old me just wanted to shake her and say “Let’s talk about something happier! You’ll feel better if we talk about more positive things!”
Well, in an interesting karmic twist, I have officially become my grandmother–– the perpetually sick person in the room. And it’s turned out to be good thing, because it’s allowed me to understand her better. It’s also allowed me to better understand why some of my loved ones don’t seem to “get it,” and why they drive so hard toward positivity on days I just need a listening ear for my litany of complaints (because, as we have discussed, I am a narcissistic beast).
Because when you’re sick, like my Gramma was or like I am or like anyone with chronic illness(es) is, it can consume you. When I’m not actively in a Crohn’s flare, I can go weeks without mentioning my condition, or thinking about it, or wanting to talk about it. During those times, it’s easy to be positive and post Instagram platitudes about keeping your head up.
But when you’re in a bout of being really sick, to the point where it’s hard to walk, or eat, or sleep like a normally functioning human, it takes up a lot of real estate in not just your body, but in your brain. You spend a lot of time alone, watching tv or reading a book because you’re too tired to go out. You have a lot of anxiety about doing anything that might make you feel worse–– including things as simple as lunch with a friend. And with all of your time and energy going into feeling the bare minimum levels of functional, it’s hard to think about anything else. You don’t have a fun story about what happened at the bar last week to contribute at friend story time–– you just have a fun story about how your new steroid is giving you insomnia, and late night tv is literally OVERFLOWING WITH FULL HOUSE RERUNS.
So when someone asks how you are, you know you should say “good,” and move on. Or better yet, bring up the latest craziness Donald Trump said or who you think got robbed at the Oscars. Almost anything is easier to say than “I’m in a lot of pain,” but for some reason, it’s all you want to say. Because not saying it makes you feel isolated.
I’m not sure what exactly I want people to say when I tell them about my experience or my symptoms. The most common response is something along the lines of “feel better soon,” and while I appreciate the sentiment, I would much rather just have someone acknowledge that it sucks. And that it’s not a cold–– I won’t get better soon, and the best way you can help me in the interim is by listening, and maybe by sending over some movie recommendations. I’m running out of rom coms.
Positivity is great, and has its place in coping. It’s a big, shiny place, where I get sick of feeling bad for myself and learn to love eating mostly pudding for months at a time. But before that place often comes feeling really shitty. So if you’re friends with someone with a chronic illness, I get it–– I get the desire to push them towards the shiny, positive pudding place. It’s easier. But it’s possible the best thing you can give them is an empathetic ear to rant to. And maybe some mashed potatoes.