Independent Women, Pt. III
There are a lot of "hard parts" to being chronically ill. The kick to your finances is difficult to manage. The blow to your social life is mentally trying. Hell, physical pain is no picnic, either. (Mainly, though, I miss the ability to eat movie theater popcorn with a heart attack amount of butter.)
But one of the hardest parts for a lot of patients is the way being chronically ill can strip you of your independence.
I have always prided myself on being an independent person –– living on my own, taking care of myself, paying my own bills. Going to college where I didn't know anyone and once even attempting to move cross-country without so much as a friend. Not needing another person to take care of me has always seemed of paramount importance. That Destiny's Child wisdom really stuck with me, I guess. Whether that translates to being a strong, independent woman who don't need no man or just being a grown-up who doesn't need mom and dad footing the bill anymore, independence –– both emotionally and financially –– was always top goal for me.
I hear my healthy friends talking all the time about what adventure they'll go on next. How they'll quit their job to do some long-term traveling, or what city they'll move to for their next chapter of adulting. There's a saying that goes "Health is a crown that the healthy wear, but only the sick can see it." The things that healthy folks take for granted –– like being able to pick up and go at any time –– are aspects of independence that sick people just don't have. And we see it. And we wish we had it. And we're jealous, even though jealous isn't always the coolest thing to admit to being.
While it's not impossible to do those adventurous things with a chronic illness, it's a hell of a lot harder. When you see just how bad your illness can get, and just how quickly your health can be taken from you, with little to no warning, you lose a little bit of that boldness. Traveling for a year turns into, "Well how will I get my monthly infusions when I'm in Laos?" And picking up to move to a new city where you don't know a soul goes from romantic and wanderlust-y to, " Who's going to be my emergency contact when I end up in the ER again?"
One of the biggest life-changers I've had to come to terms with since getting really sick is that I need help. Even when I don't want to need help. Sometimes I need my mom to drive me home from a colonoscopy because they don't just let you hop on the CTA when you're fresh off anaesthesia. Sometimes I need my best friend to drive me to the grocery store when a flare is severely fucking with my joints. Everybody needs somebody, sometimes, right?
And while needing people from time to time is a universal sentiment, chronically ill or not, it does make me occasionally mourn the badass life I might be living if I didn't need people in such a literal, immediate, and physically present sense. If I just needed emotional support from friends rather than literal caregivers. Maybe I would go teach English in South America for a year! Maybe I could risk a lapse in health insurance long enough to go be an unemployed, surfer-vagabond-guy in Australia for a bit! But as reality would have it I am here in Chicago, about an hour away from my childhood home, and trying to find other ways to assert that independence.
If chronic illness does anything, it makes you think outside the box.
It's okay to mourn the life you might've had. It's also okay to accept the life you do have. And I know in my soul I'm the same independent, adventurous girl I've always been –– now I just need to schedule those adventures around treatments.