I have to admit that the readings this week have made me feel quite anxious. As I shared in class on Monday, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease, at the ripe age of 13. Since it was put into remission, I’ve only gone into relapse a handful of times. This December, I turn 25 years old, so it’s hard for me to think of myself as a person with a disability. My health problems haven’t caused me to feel that way outright, but the readings this week brought out a lot of insecurity in myself and my health status.
As I recall the doctor’s appointments, procedures, and surgeries, I remember the feeling of objectification that I took on in my role as patient. This was exuberated by the fact that these procedures began at a time in my life when my identity was forming. I experienced menarche, and its associated sexualization, right around the same time. The readings from this class have made me think a lot about my identity formation, the alienation and depression I felt in my teenage years, and the distancing I’ve felt from my peers ever since.
My body has been poked and prodded. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome last year and experienced the pain of kidney stones a few short months later. That, combined with the knee problems I had in my later teen years, have combined to expose my body to quite a bit of radiation for someone so young and apparently healthy. This is a definite source of some anxiety. Another source of anxiety is the diagnoses I’ve had and the doctor’s claims that not much is known about the diseases or syndromes. I remember the doctors saying that they didn’t know exactly how ulcerative colitis occurred; only that it might have a genetic connection. (It turns out that my dad also has ulcerative colitis, but I didn’t know this until I was diagnosed.) I remember them telling me that there is no cure and what my 13-year-old ears heard was that I would never be healed; my body would never be healthy. They told me that I would have to take eight horse pills every day for the rest of my life. That lasted for a couple of years, but I decided to stop taking them. I began to research stress relief techniques and dietary plans that would help my colitis stay in remission. My only relapses have occurred during extremely stressful times in my life, and I can acknowledge this and keep it in mind in order to try to avoid those situations.
Barbara Ehrenreich writes in “Cancerland” how, during her initial diagnoses with breast cancer, her identity was “replaced” by cancer. This is something I also felt and something I’ve tried to overcome. As I mentioned in class, I see a thin line between excuses to avoid stress and the necessity for my body to avoid stress. This is especially true in the workplace. I spent six years working as a journalist and editor at a newspaper in northwest Ohio, during which time I experienced my relapses. Luckily, I was able to keep my job and take sick days to recover. But I also felt guilty for calling off work.
I came back to college to get my bachelor’s degree in journalism, but I don’t plan to work for traditional media outlets. Since age 14, I’ve wanted to be a reporter and editor. It took a lot of hard work to get the experience I’ve had, but I have begun to see that I must choose a different career path in order to be successful, in my definition. So much of my identity was formed around career expectations (I’m a Capricorn; I can’t help it) that it feels as if I’m starting all over. Only the questions have not been answered, questions like, “Why is my body in remission when I refuse to take the pills?” and worries about when my next relapse will occur.
I’ve tried to end my previous posts on a positive note. It’s the cockeyed optimist inside of me. But as of now, my body is feeling tired and it deserves to rest. That’s one big lesson I’ve learned from being a person with chronic illness – all of our bodies, no matter what their ailment, deserve to be loved and treated with dignity. I’ve learned to recognize the times I need to give my body a rest by simply letting myself stop worrying.