Last week my friend Biskin wrote a lovely piece on the death associated with illness – She’s an expert on chronic illness, having had a medical mistake break her (physical) heart at the tender age of twelve. It's been twenty years and she was just fitted for her LVAD so it's safe to say she knows something about this shtick.
Biskin Lee on Illness:
In illness there is much to grieve. There is the loss of the person you knew yourself to be – my own abilities to do what I used to do, and how that loss has changed me. There is the stress of dealing with the illness itself, it is a full time job, and can sometimes weirdly put you into a third person perspectival experience, and you suffer yourself because of it. It is almost like a death. That girl, the one who climbed mountains, is gone. And I don’t feel sorry for me, because there is nothing to feel sorry for. That other is gone. Although I suppose it could be argued that there is something to feel sorry for. As Thomas Mann wrote in “The Magic Mountain“, death is not an experience for the person who has died, but rather one for those left behind. In this instance, I am one of the persons left behind. And I don’t even get to experience the respite, the rest and relief that death can also hold for the survivors of terminally ill person. Because I am just a slightly better version of that terminally ill person.
So, first off, she’s absolutely right. On all accounts. Social media is great for normalizing this third person perspective – it’s just a compartizalization – it’s simply taking a #Selfie and moving on. And yes, it is a way to cope (related: Sonja's piece in Vice on Hospital Selfies). Living with an illness for a long, long time is exasperating because you spend ever so much time feeling like you are about to die, only to not die, and live another day. Anyways, it seems like an awfully long time’s gone wasted in some kind of sick Schrödinger’s cat paradox. But really, it’s not.
Let’s see here, I’ve only been aware that I’m sick, for what, 15 years? And only been sick, sick, for say half of that. And only sick, sick, sick for three (aggregate) years. And only unable to get out of bed (again, aggregate) for two (measly) years. And, of that, only like two months where I actually might die. The aggregate part here is important. See, it hasn’t all been misery. There’s misery punctuated by lovely adventures and fabulous friends and moments where I’ve felt so fantastic that I couldn’t help but believe that the moment of health is infinite.
Anyways, back to Schrödinger’s Cat. What if instead of death, it's more an instance of purgatory? Until you open the box, you don't get to know if the person you once were is alive or dead? Not sure if that's false hope or if the happiness you once had is now immutably (or, more likely, irreparably) lost, but perhaps, perhaps the cat who climbed mountains is still there.