Saturday, February 6, 2010

Passport to the Land of the Sick

133,000,000 Americans have a chronic medical condition or illness. 23,500,000 Americans have an autoimmune disease. Of all the 20 year olds working right now, 3 out of 10 will end up on disability. The population of the United States is about 304,000,000. Lots of us are sick.

Yet, each one of us feels like we are the only one. We feel stigmatized, alone, isolated, damaged, hopeless and helpless. In my darkest time with lupus, I would go to sleep praying that I would not wake up in the morning. When that prayer turned to figuring out how to make it happen, I went for help. But the help didn't have a clue. So, I decided to figure out how to live with lupus.

These days I am nothing short of a chronic illness missionary. We may have chronic diseases but that does not mean our lives are over. Writing in Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag describes disease as a passport that takes us from the land of the well to the land of the sick.

Try to imagine a culture very different from yours, as different as you can imagine. Everything is different: the language, social rules, dress, religion, etc. Now imagine yourself permanently transported to that culture. What would you do? How long would you expect the new culture to conform to your ideas? How long would you isolate yourself? How willing would you be to learn about this new culture? Would you give up and spend the rest of your life bemoaning your situation or would you find a way to incorporate this new culture into your life?

We have been given a passport to the land of the sick and there is no going back. Everything is different. We have a choice. We can be angry, isolate ourselves, and expect the healthy world to conform to us, or we can find ways to incorporate this new culture into our lives. We have a choice.