Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Few Musings on Illness

At the moment, I am dealing with two simultaneous autoimmune diseases. One is psoriasis, which in the last seven months has produced one severe outbreak after another. As I understand it, I have the genetic history for it. My Grandfather, my mother's father, had frequent issues with psoriasis, even suffering with several places at once on his body that routinely cracked and bled. If he were still alive, I'd ask him about the age of onset, but then again, he was never one to open up about illness. If I were to arrange a seance, I'd first ask him what his strategies were for coping with multiple chronic diseases and disorders.

The second issue is autoimmune thyroid disorder, which I noted in yesterday's blog entry. Having had it formally diagnosed, I am now aware of the effects in a way I wasn't before now. There are times where swallowing is difficult and I stumble over my words. Both are a result of the swollen thyroid gland pushing against the larynx. It's a distressing notion to contemplate that my body seems to have turned on itself, and seeing enemies where there are none, is attacking healthy tissue. My symptoms will only increase with time, but I don't want to wait, helplessly, for the gland to be damaged by years of the process. I have been told that there is no cure, nor any treatment, but I'd gladly modify any aspect of my life to avoid feeling the way I do now. Even so, I sometimes resent the amount of effort I've had to put into just being healthy. Some people go an entire life without significant health concerns. Some of us are not so lucky.

I can't help but note the ironies. In my teens and early twenties I underwent long-lasting, utterly horrifying periods of depression. During some of them, I became suicidal. I attempted suicide seriously two or three times, coming close once. Then, as my condition improved, I embraced living and have gratefully never felt such thoughts since then. And yet, where I once wished to die, on my own terms, by my own hand, my body now has decided to try to kill certain organs, albeit slowly. It's a twist ending on what has been an often frustrating struggle for health. The exact reason why the whole process started is matter for debate, but it's likely to have been in the cards forever.

Is any of this fair? Often times I've wondered what the ultimate lesson is in all this. Is God trying to enrich my understanding of empathy and compassion? Am I being schooled in humility? Sometimes in these circumstances one has only queries for reflection. What I do know is that protracted, prolonged periods of suffering radically change one's worldview. I've never really embraced the notion that life is suffering. There are certain elements of life which fit that profile, but life is often quite good. In my situation, I've not really been able to enjoy life in a while. That's what I miss the most. I have much going for me right now, but illness has a way of overshadowing the good things.

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