Sunday, October 16, 2011

Visitor In A Strange Land

"You look so good."

Well meaning people say this to be reassuring.
Before I was living with a chronic illness I said this very thing to someone. The message we meant to convey is, 'you may be struggling but you put forward a good image'. You look good in spite of all you are dealing with. It is meant to be a compliment.

But a strange thing happens to people living
with chronic illness when they hear comments like this. Perhaps this shift in thinking happens as a result of perceived judgement, self deprecation, or a fractured connection to the "world of the well". When we hear this apparently kind comment the response that spills forth does so with a tidal force.

Thoughts tumble through our mind. Exactly what does that mean? Do I look too good to your judging eye to actually have a "real" illness? Are you questioning the legitimacy of my illness? How could I possibly "look so good" when I feel down right haggard.

When I was first diagnosed with MS, I became indoctrinated into a world of people who live with the effects of disease that are invisible. These symptoms collectively take a hefty toll and remain completely unseen to others. It is these symptoms that contribute to a sense of separation between the 'well' and the unwell almost creating a division of us and them. For me, living with MS these symptoms include numbness, fatigue, cognitive fogginess, vertigo and others. Sometimes I long to be ignorant again, to not understand.

The very best description of the divide between the well and the unwell is that when you are living with a chronic disease you are a visitor in a strange land. You have a vivid recollection of where you used to live, but here you are in a different environment. This is a land of wounded warriors who have had hard edges, whittled to soft curves in battle.  In this place the people speak a different dialect of your mother tongue.
The people here have a different lifestyle and have a greater focus on things that were given little attention before.  For a long time, all I could think of was my homeland. I yearned for it like a child away from their family at camp; taking part of activities, but keenly missing the familiar routines of home.

As I enter my sixth year since my voyage from good health, I have found some peace in this land. 
I have become accustomed to living slower.  In my previous work I learned about the concept of mindful living. This concept was a most challenging concept to integrate in a fast paced world that valued multitasking, output and productivity.  In living mindfully you must practice focusing your mind on those things in your immediate surroundings through observation or description.

I look so good?  I am good, as it is redefined in the world I live in today. 

Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart ~ Unknown


Peace Be With You said...

I am already bilingual, and you just made me realize I am actually trilingual. This was a wonderful post.

Ian said...

But Kim, you DO look so good! So do I. So does Judy I bet! And those myelin-retentive folk who can't see the MSsy stuff won't see the smile inside us either. Yes, YLSG!!!

Kim said...

"Myelin-retentive" hahhaahha Thanks for the laugh Ian!

Judy- Thank you for your kind words.

Nicole said...

I guess since my disability is more pronounced now, they just stare!

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou