You know those cartoons where someone jumps on one side of a seesaw and the person on the other side goes flying up in the air, over the first person’s head, and finally lands in a puddle of mud? Keep that image in mind.
Being chronically ill requires a careful balancing act. Symptoms, treatments, pills, diets, supportive friends, unsupportive friends, jobs or lack thereof, and everything else in life contributes to this. If were all placed on a seesaw, somehow it would just evenly balance, so that neither side was on the ground or up in the air. Sure, it might totter. You might feel like it was going to tip at any moment. But miraculously, it wouldn’t.
That’s how it feels, most days. Obviously, something big could throw that seesaw out of whack, just like it would for a healthy person. A car accident or death of a loved one will always disrupt life. Usually small things can be absorbed into the heap on either side of a healthy person’s seesaw without any lasting disruption to the equilibrium, and that’s great. Those of us with chronic illness know that our seesaws are a bit different. They have a lot less room for extra weight.
I was chatting with a friend yesterday. She updated me on her recent hospitalizations, then said, “I know this is going to sound silly compared to everything else, but I have an ingrown toenail….” I knew just what she meant. When we deal with severe health problems, it feels like we should let the little things get to us, but I feel like it’s the opposite: because we deal with severe health problems every single day, we just don’t have the capacity to handle anything new, even if it’s small.
I often feel the same way. I could be in excruciating pain, trying to simply breathe through it, and some small new problem sends me into a tailspin. Why? Because I’ve already used up all of my energy dealing with the pain and I just don’t have a damn bit left for anything else. That new thing, tiny though it is, adds just enough weight to one side of my seesaw that everything on the other side flies up and lands in the mud.
Have you experienced this yourself? I’m certain at least some of you have. My friend was relieved to hear that I had. We’re often told by society that we should be able to handle our health problems, and for us chronically ill folks that’s hard enough on the best days, so it feels like defeat to let a so-called “small” problem tip our seesaw. But I’m sure it’s happened to some of you. Please share in the comments; if you don’t want to share details, a simple “Me too!” will let others know that they aren’t alone.