There are a lot of things that royally suck about chronic illness. After 15 years, you’d think I’d have experienced most of the suckage illness could throw at me. Loss of job, freedom to plan, retain a sense of self apart from pain and the ability to maintain any source of modesty in those jaunty hospital gowns with windows in all the wrong places. I’ve had my child throw things at me, scream and stomp “I hate your illness!!!” and I’ve wrapped him in my arms while he clawed and kicked and tried to fight me off as if I were the enemy and not the stupid craptastic illness that rules our schedules and turns plans upside down. My spouse and I have turned against each other as if the other is the enemy and not what was happening to us – only to realize we are fighting for the same thing – normalcy (whatever the heck that is). At times, chronic illness has left my family, my husband, my children and myself absolutely gutted and depleted with not an ounce of fight left in us. We look for the good, we really do. We know the stretching and pulling and tearing gives way to strong seams marred, yet toughened, by scar tissue. Sometimes we cry so much we laugh and laugh so much we cry. It’s an absurd, crazy ride.
My latest adventure was one big lesson in humility and laughing off the crazy. Over the past couple years medication and prolonged bed rest have turned my once thin and toned body into, well… let’s just say a much plumper body type. On top of my pleasantly (yeah, right) plump body, my hair has large grey streaks because I have been unable to sit up long enough for the 4 hour production that is coloring and highlighting my crazy thick hair. Top it all off with temperature regulation issues where I go from freezing to drenched in sweat (hello menopause – how nice of you to show up a decade early) and a wardrobe that doesn’t really fit my new physique. I try to buy new clothes that actually fit but I keep winding up crying in dressing rooms and I’m pretty sure my photo is hanging in the mall with a warning and “Do Not Serve Order – Patron will scare other customers with her fits of irrational behavior”. So, I’m living in yoga pants and baggy t-shirts or sweatshirts (or the occasional ill-fitting clothes that at least make it look like I put an effort into getting dressed that day). All this to say, pretty does not describe my feelings towards my outside self these days.
Well, last weekend didn’t exactly help that feeling (although it did give me a rather comical blog post – but I’m getting ahead of myself). It was a normal Saturday and I was busy doing what moms do – spending the day at my son’s Tae Kwon Do Competition. Just being there upright for more than an hour was a struggle for me but this was way too important to show that. Even my sweet Will was competing while sick with a migraine, so if he the competitor could push through pain, so could his mama. Getting dressed early that morning was a nightmare as I oscillated between yoga pants and real clothes (I fell somewhere in between in the end). Chronic illness means juggling several factors when deciding on an outfit. We’ve discussed the aforementioned, ahem, plumpness, but I also had to consider my tendency of going from freezing to drenched in sweat in the same minute and how pain could get to a point where even the type of fabric that was brushing against my skin mattered. Finally, I put on something that I thought I could at least survive in and not totally embarrass my son. I threw my hair in a braid and just avoided the mirror. My body image issues needed to take a back seat to caring for my son and his needs that day.
He rocked his competition. And I mean – kicked butt. I even forgot how awful I felt for awhile in all my cheering and obnoxious “wooing” as his Weapons Team dominated the mat. Congratulatory high fives and hugs all around – it was so gratifying to see all their hard work pay off. My son wanted to stay to watch the Demo Team competition, so being a good mama I said “Sure”, kissed him on the forehead and went to find my seat.
Unfortunately my seat had been taken so I needed to stand. No big deal. Well, for me, it kinda is a big deal. My body began to revolt with nausea, shakiness, sweating profusely, pain radiating pretty much all over my body – I had no idea how I was going to make it through the next hour. But, I’m a mama and this meant a lot to him. So, I walked outside to take a few breaths and prayed a desperate prayer to God to help me make it through so my son could see the rest of the competition.
I walked back in the door and made my way to my stuff and my taken seat. And then it happened. What happened? Pretty much any woman’s worst nightmare. The woman who had previously taken my seat jumped up and SHOUTED (I guess she wanted to make sure I heard over the loud music) “Oh, ma’am, I am so sorry!!! I didn’t realize you were PREGNANT when I took your seat!! Please, sit down!” (as everybody in the vicinity jerked their heads around to see this woman “heavy with child” that this other woman had so rudely stolen a seat from).
Okay… now… maybe it was my shaking, looking like I may puke demeanor. And, maybe my bloated stomach from meds and the extra pounds I have newly acquired was prominently on display. But, seriously, everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) knows you don’t assume a woman is pregnant unless she is literally pushing a baby out and you see the head or she has specifically TOLD YOU SO. And even then, you tread lightly. Nope, not this woman. She apparently felt no need to play by this social rule book as she shoved her chair near me. I mumbled something like “Oh, um, I’m not pregnant. Must be this unflattering shirt I’m wearing.” (or something super smooth like that).
Now, most people would be mortified to have made such a mistake. Well, not this woman. She looked me up and down with a sour expression and declared “Oh! Well then…” and she took back my seat and plopped her own plump booty right back in it!!!!
I think my mouth literally hung open for a few seconds as I tried to compose myself. Not only had I just received one of the worst insults you could give a woman, but I also lost my seat! Again!!! Had I known all of this was about to happen I would have lied right through my clenched teeth, rubbed my Buddha belly, and said, “Why thank you, kind lady! My baby and I appreciate your thoughtfulness. I could use a seat – my swollen, pregnant feet are killing me!”
At that moment, I had some choices to make. Would I let this comment shatter my already fragile body image? Would I hold onto the shame and embarrassment of my less than ideal body shape and let it steal joy from that day? Or would I laugh it off and refocus my attention to the performance of some seriously talented kids who could care less about the size of my stomach or the crazy lady (who still had my seat).
So I laughed and my sweet Dad who was there gave me his seat and I went on doing what mamas do – cheer their heads off. It was a victory for me. One more choice made to not let this stupid illness define me and to humble myself because that day was not about me. It was about my little boy who was watching wide eyed and dreaming of his own time flipping through the air and breaking boards with his head.
I made it through and somehow got myself home. I was never so happy to see my bed and lay in a dark quiet room. As I waited for my pain meds to kick in and drift off to sleep, I breathed a prayer of thanks to God for seeing me through and allowing me to have perspective. Thank goodness it’s not all about me.
And the chair thief? Well, I’m thankful for her too. She humbled me but I refused to be shamed. This body of mine has been through hell and back again. And it’s still going. But, next time someone asks if I’m pregnant?! I’m going to play along and steal their seat. After all, me and my baby Buddha belly need the rest.