Saturday, November 5, 2011


I never write about life with a chronic illness. It's bad enough that  it intrudes, an unwanted guest, into daily life. It needn't think there's room for it in my writing life.

And I'm not one of those people, Louise Hay book tucked under their arm, who looks for deeper meanings, lessons, who communicates with their illness as if it were co-writing their life's narrative, as if illness had its own trajectory or personality.

To me, it's all a lottery and the same one that gifted me with three easy births and an ability to scan. Luck of the draw. You win some, you lose others.

I despise  the glibness with which people discuss the 'gift of their illness'. If I could swap my (non-smoking) lungs for a better pair, would I ? What kind of madwoman would decline ?

And yet.
And yet.

Illness teaches. It teaches me that much of life is beyond my control. It teaches me tolerance. And it teaches me that my ideals are more fluid than I think and that circumstances may shape my choices.

At twenty I toughed out glandular fever, its fatigue and hallucinations, without anything stronger than garlic. I fought with my sister at a wedding over the moral weakness of those who took antibiotics.

Today I read a comment online that said much the same thing. Quit taking chemical medicines. It's better for the earth if you die young anyway. Flippant, not meaning to wound. Thoughtless. Of what comfort is that to my child ?

When your health depends on a medicine, you take it. When your child's life depends on a medicine, you allow it. Some drugs are poisons, they injure as they cure. And they are the only option available. Not everything is cured by a gluten free diet, meditation, vegetarianism, organics only, chiropractics, prayer. Some illnesses yield only to the laboratory.

It's a lottery, and you buy your ticket in the womb.

And you know what ? It's good. It's good to have your lofty ideas broken into shards, like a piece of pottery left behind in a war zone. It makes you softer as it toughens you, it makes you cease to judge. It gives you an ability to tolerate ambiguity; to take the Western drug, to be the one who shows us how we fail every day to be perfect. How we all fail.

Illness makes human failure visible. Chronic illness makes it visible all the time. There is no resolution. And so we blame the ones whose failure offends us and hold them at arms length - it's you, it's not me. My certainties will keep me safe.

No, they won't. Illness whispers in my ear and asks me to pass it on. It's a lottery. Judge not lest ye yourself be judged.


  1. Hi Melissa,
    Sorry if I offended you with my comment. It wouldn't be the first time I offend with my views on medicine. That's why I shared them on that particular thread - unwanted advice.

    I have had health issues all my life, so at least I can say that it's not coming from a healthy person who's never suffered illness. It's a personal belief that I would have never shared on a thread about illness or medicating, because it would be insensitive. But the thread seemed to be specifically for saying exactly those things that one normally keeps to oneself.

    With much respect,

  2. No, not offended. Triggered some thoughts though.

    I don't know; maybe when I'm old I'll be able to put the ecology before my need to be healthy enough to raise/enjoy my family, maybe not.

    And there are some interesting issues around chronic illness and how much of the health dollar one person can expect to receive over their lifetime.

    Lots of food for thought. I'm not sure though, how many people - even the elderly - are prepared to reject a treatment or a cure in favour of stabilising world population...and many parents, faced with catastrophic illness of a child, might argue that it is unethical for them to refuse Western medical treatment in the first instance unless the child is of an age and maturity to make that decision for themselves.

  3. I reserve the right to use whatever I need to survive. And to use whatever I need to help my family members survive. I used antibiotics to treat for H. Pyloria infection. I did it because it made me horribly ill and if left untreated would probably cause stomach cancer. I have given my kids their fair share when a jab on something dirty in our chicken shit encrusted yard gives them a good pink case of cellulitis or a boil or worse.

    But for the rest of them time, lots of garlic and vinegar, and wheatgrass juice. I take care of them the best I can, choosing to take the best of any world I can find to ensure a successful outcome.

    I have no guilt. People can wax poetic about their thoughts. It's all fun and games til it's someone they love.