In October of 2012, I wrote a piece called “Confessions of a Sick Person.” Fast forward almost a year and a half, and I have more to confess. Ten confessions then. Ten confessions now.
Some are lighthearted, some are not. It may not be in my best interests for the people in my life to read these confessions, but I offer them anyway because I feel as if most of them are on behalf of everyone who must live day in and day out with chronic pain and illness. So, here goes…
1. Even when I really want to see people, I’m relieved when they have to cancel.
When people cancel, it also cancels the payback I'll have to go through as a result of socializing. I'm happy to put up with that payback, within limits. Even so, there's always a sense of relief when someone cancels.
Last fall, I committed to a few nearby events so I could introduce people to my new book. One afternoon, as I was getting dressed to go to an event at my local bookstore, I found myself saying softly to my body, “I’m sorry for forcing you to do this.” I was taken aback by these words until I realized that, although I’d freely chosen to do this event, had the bookstore called and cancelled, I confess, I'd have been relieved.
2. I’m increasingly unable to distinguish nightshirts from going-out-in-public shirts and slippers from shoes.
This can set me up for embarrassment. I have a nightshirt that, to me, looks nice enough to wear out. The problem is, it almost goes down to my knees so I'm sure that, to others, it looks like the nightshirt that it really is. And recently, I bought some footwear online from L.L. Bean called “scuffs.” They sure looked like shoes to me, but the first time I wore them out, I was diplomatically told that I’d left the house in slippers. Oh dear. What should I wear?
3. I don’t brush my dog’s teeth.
The vet impressed on me how important this was—even though none of the many dogs I had as a child ever had their teeth brushed. The thing is, some days it’s a big accomplishment just to brush my own teeth, so I’m afraid Rusty is on his own here.
4. Sometimes, I badly wish I were young again.
I’m not proud of this confession, but the fact is, when I was young, I wasn’t sick. On the other hand, it’s also true that when I was young, I was unhappy a lot of the time. I thought I should always be able to get my way, and when I didn’t, I felt cheated by life. Now that I’m older and (supposedly) wiser, I understand that life doesn’t always serve up what I want it to and that the key to happiness is making peace with the way things are, whether they’re to my liking or not. And so, I’m happier now than when I was young. I really am.
And yet, even knowing that if I were young again, I’d lose this acquired wisdom and thus be less happy than I am now, sometimes there’s no way around it: I wish I were young again. Young and not sick.
5. I have no idea what things cost.
My husband has been doing the shopping for us since I got sick. It's been so many years now that I rarely know what things cost. Whether it's a carton of milk, a gallon of gas, or a light bulb...I'm clueless.
6. When I have a new health problem, I usually hide it from others.
Why would I hide it? Because I don’t want anyone to think I’m a serial chronic illness-er (a phrase I just made up). It took me a long time to get some of the people in my life on board with the fact that I’m sick all the time. I don’t want to suddenly lay on them that I also have something like a pesky skin condition or recurring bladder infections. I fear they’d roll their eyes and silently think: “Another medical problem?”
7. While I don’t wish poor health on anyone, I sometimes want my book How to Be Sick to fall into the hands of a celebrity with health problems who would declare it to be the definitive book on living well with chronic pain and illness.
An embarrassing confession, this one. (Each of you may have your own version of it.) Although I don’t spend my time daydreaming about it, once in a while, the thought creeps in: “Since so many people say they love the book, why can’t Oprah say it? Or Dr. Phil? Or Dr. Oz?” (I’m not picky about celebrities on this matter.)
8. And finally, a repeat confession because it’s truer than ever: When I’m alone, my eating habits are fit only for my dog to see.
When I'm alone, I often lick the bowls or plates after I've eaten from them. Not only is there food to be had there, but every dish licked is a dish that's easier to wash.
If you’re in the mood to confess, please join the discussion below.
© 2014 Toni Bernhard. Thank you for reading my work. I'm the author of three books:
How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide (Fall 2015). The theme of this article is expanded on in this book.
Visit www.tonibernhard.com for more information.