Journal Entry, 2007:
As someone living with chronic illness, there are few things I hate more than that seemingly innocuous phrase “I know how you feel”.
While experiencing minor illness such as coughs or colds, otherwise healthy friends have sometimes remarked that they now know exactly how I must feel, as though two days on the sofa watching daytime television somehow gives a unique insight into my world.
There are several major flaws to this logic, not least, the very fact that they are able to make it to the sofa to watch TV at all (or get to the bathroom, or make tea and toast and refresh their hot water bottle) places their ailment in an entirely different league to my own.
The fact their illness is measured in days not decades precludes any comprehension of what it is to watch their entire world torn irreparably apart and be powerless to stop it.
However ill they are, it is too brief to steal the memory of what healthy feels like, yet the very fact we all know how miserable it is to have a cold brings a modicum of sympathy from others and grudging permission to grumble, at least for a little while. No one with a cold is expected to be brave and uncomplaining all of the time and in the context of a cold the phrase ‘in your head’ takes on a very different meaning.
How could a cold make you understand what it is to wake up paralysed and blind, to not recognise faces of the people you love, to suffer seizures and falls yet be unable to call for help?
What symptom of a cold can mimic pain that even morphine cannot touch, or the exhaustion of a body contorted and wracked for hours with uncontrollable spasms and the injuries that inevitably result?
When did a cold leave a healthy adult fearing for their life, fighting to survive from one day to the next?
How can a cold convey the burden of learning that you may never lead a normal life or know what it is to be healthy again?
Do they know what it is to be as dependent on others as the smallest child, or the indignity of losing their most basic abilities and choices?
Do they know what it is to have no identity? To lose all value in the eyes of the world because the achievements that gave them worth mean nothing if they cannot be maintained?
Have they been denied the chance of a career; of a partner and kids? Have they lived with the fear that for them, these things may be nothing more than an impossible dream?
Do they watch, day in day out, as other people take for granted the life they ought to have had; complaining about things they would happily give up limbs for?
Have they been forced to watch as one by one most of their friends either turned away or raced too far ahead to hear them call?
Do they know what it is to see their former self recede beyond reach or return leaving a stranger in its place?
When did they last realise that they would willingly trade lives with almost anyone?
How can a mere cold teach them these things, when all the while their job, their life, their friends are waiting untouched on the other side?
In a couple of weeks they will have forgotten their illness just as they will have forgotten about me, as once again they re-join the race, too far ahead to hear me call. Their ailment was merely the smallest glitch in an otherwise perfectly ordinary life.
So the next time you have a cough or a cold, and you’re sat on the sofa watching daytime TV, please think twice before telling me that you know how I feel; because some days I really wish you could, but thank God that you don’t.