A Small Word of Gratitude for the Sick People

(PIcture by Tambako)

One of the good things about fifteen years of dabbling on the edges of Social Media is that I have got to know some people who are really unwell. And, although I know it sounds a little bit strange, I am very grateful for that.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to name any names here. Let’s just proceed on the assumption that there are at least two people I know around the Social Media circuit. I’ve never met them; I’ve never spoken to them. But, for fifteen years or so, I have seen what they’ve posted or blogged or tweeted or whatever. And, like it or not, some tiny measure of real-life leaks into each and every thing we say on here. Thus, a person becomes rounded and real and ‘known’ as far as the limits of the medium allows.

The two people. What can I say? When I first saw them, say, fifteen years ago, they were younger, and the world seemed to be at their feet. There was nothing they could not go on to do, no mountain they could not climb. And then they got sick. Not together, not at the same time. As far as I know, they don’t even know that the other exists. They just got really, really, sick. Slowly, mysteriously, their worlds closed in on them and their options and their possible game plays became fewer and fewer.

And I just want to thank them.

Genuinely. I hope I don’t say it wrong.

There are a number of reasons to offer a little gratitude. If I’m not very careful, they may start to sound cliched and twee. We tend to go on about how brave sick people are and how much fight they have. That’s true and true, of course, but it’s not quite the thing. For me, it’s not how strong they are – they aren’t always strong, how could they be? It’s that… and I’m going to use a religious image but I’m looking to bring any religion along with it. They bear the cross that has been given them. They carry it as best they can. Will I do it with as much grace when it comes my time to do it? I don’t know. I can only hope so. My sick friends have shown me how it can be done and for that, I am grateful.

But it’s not just that. It’s complicated and it’s hard to set down without sounding like a condescending fool.

My sick friends still find times of joy and creativity in the world. Despite everything. I see it on their social media which, thankfully, they maintain as best they can. They find joy in family and in pets and in partners and in momentary respite. They also find it in more practical things like care, analgesia, and information. That last one is a big one, as far as I can see. Information about what they must go through. What can be done, what cannot be done… what on earth is it? I am grateful to my sick online friends for showing me that there can always be the possibility of a moment of comfort and joy, even when things are pretty lousy.

They have shown me at least some of the technicalities of being ill. That it isn’t really about lying in a quilted room with a flannel on your head and a worried physician at your pulse. That it is swelling and nausea and intolerable itch and moments of utter hopelessness and fear for continence and loss of privacy, license, and independence. That sickness is a messy, messy business on every practical level.

It would be remiss to not remember here my friend Simon Ricketts, who also shared the very best and the very hardest of his life, in sickness and in health, with us. I will never forget Simon and all he showed us. 

Of course, I haven’t needed to resort to the internet to know all this. Like most of us, we have lost precious family to long term illness. We have lived it first-hand. But, like it or not, there is a curious intimacy to the sharing of a life online. Things get opened up that might not be opened up in real life. It creates understanding and it increases empathy, I think. So, again, for this, I am grateful.

And lastly, for now at least, the thing that is hardest to say without sounding self-satisfied and callous. I walk into town, and I take a conscious deep breath of cold air into my lungs, and I know I can go anywhere I want and do anything I want, and I don’t need anyone’s goddamn help to do it. I am completely and utterly blessed. And I want to thank you for making me realise that. I don’t remember it often enough. I plough through my blessed life, burdened by worry and uncertainty. I tie myself up in knots. But, sometimes, I think of my online friends and of all the effortless things I still have that they do not. And, hopefully, to honour them just a little bit. I appreciate it in a big fat tangible way, if only for a little time.

I sometimes think there should be a mandatory two-week holiday for everybody every few years. For the first week we would all be confined to a hard, too-tight bed, and pumped full of drugs and left a little too long before we get what we need. And in the second week, we would be allowed back to our regular lives, to appreciate just how good we have it.

I also wish that we could evolve as a species in a way that would somehow allow us to share each other’s pain a little more equitably. Imagine if a partner could say, “I’ll carry the pain for you today. Take a day off.” How good that would be for the sick person but how good it would be for the carer too? To help carry the burden. To share it out.

But they are just a pipe dreams. Sickness will come to most of us, in time. But to some, it has already come, terribly early and terrible hard. To you, I offer this strange but heartfelt gratitude today.

Thank you.

1 comment:

Jim Murdoch said...

Oddly enough I don't have much experience of people with long-term illnesses. I mean Carrie has her arthriris and I've got my cognitive issues but I don't think either of us thinks of ourselves, or the other, as ill. We're just us. Seriously there's not a single day I go down to the kitchen and come back having done everything I was supposed to. But you cope. I don't really have any catch phrases but, now I think about it, whenever Carrie and I have had some issue to face, from ill health to no water, one of the things I always find myself saying is, "We'll cope. It's what we do." And we do. I dread the day when I can't. I'd rather be like my mum and dad, just drop dead and be done with it.