Being saddled with chronic medical conditions -- not just the disabilities, but the seemingly never-ending stream of infections, skin damage, and intestinal problems that go with them -- has deeply affected my ability to show compassion for others.
On the one hand, I have developed an ability to show deep compassion for people that wasn’t there earlier in my life. I understand now what it means to hurt all the time, to be at the mercy of a body that’s in revolt, and to often have no idea why certain things are happening or what to do about them. These experiences have softened my attitudes towards others facing long-term, serious medical issues.
The flip side to this coin is my attitude toward those typically healthy people who come down with a short terms illness. In a nutshell, it sucks. Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration -- but not much.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as though I can’t feel for people who have the flu, or a cold, or food poisoning. I’ve had all of those things, too, and I know they can make you absolutely miserable. And I understand that these typically healthy people aren’t used to pain and discomfort, so what they experience is magnified. I know their pain is real, and I can respect that, and extend them empathy and sympathy.
To a point.
While I’m generally okay with being the doting wife/friend/daughter for a few days when the healthy folk in my life take ill, there comes a time when some of these sickos start to grate on my nerves. That time occurs when the whining and obsessing set in.
Sexist note: this phase typically begins much sooner in men than in women. In fact, in some men, the beginning of my intolerance occurs at the moment their first symptoms hit. This is especially true when the illness involves vomiting.
I just can’t stand the drama of it all. After living with chronic illness, you learn pretty quickly to hide your pain, to mask how you really feel because people get tired of hearing it. This, dear readers, is a lesson the TI (Temporarily Ill) should learn to embrace -- everybody loves a trooper, nobody likes a whiner.
So if you’re in need of tender loving care the next time a cold hits, or you eat some bad sushi, I’m probably not your best bet after the first day. From then on, if you need me, you can find me in the book under B, as in “Bitch, Stone Cold.”
There, there, it will be okay.