Mental health around chronic illnesses fascinates me as I have my own experience with colitis, and the subsequent mental health issues that have come with it. The way people see the world, how things effect them and how they react to these inputs really intrigues me and it’s something I think would be beneficial to compare and look at what works for different people. In the interest of this experiment I thought I’d share some thoughts on how I view my life with colitis and the mental health problems that come with it.
My experiences and outlook can be best summarised by the title of this post (and my favourite guilty pleasure western movie). Living with colitis I’ve got used to having a lot of bad for long periods of time. Being sick for months on end with no resolution in sight can be horribly draining and has an overwhelming feeling that there’s nothing good in life. During my most recent flare I booked my flight to Nepal, graduated university and got a wicked tax return but there’s still the ‘cloud of bad’ sitting above it all. It’s odd because while there’s this constant bad that hangs around in the form of the illness, I feel as though I get more out of the good things that happen to me. Pre-colitis Brad didn’t really have much of an emotional response to things as I hadn’t experienced a whole lot, and I figure as a result I couldn’t fully appreciate good things happening.
So maybe there’s this phenomenon where to experience life at its fullest, you have to experience the full extent of both good and bad things. I’ve met plenty of people who lack empathy for those with chronic illnesses because they seemingly can’t relate having never experienced it themselves, coincidentally these are the same people who seem to not have a very fulfilled outlook on life. It’s obviously far too simple to say that those who haven’t experienced struggle or pain can’t be fulfilled or have a truly meaningful life experience but that is kinda how my experience has been. I feel as though in being dealt a shit hand with chronic illness we are probably better adjusted to appreciate the good when it happens, truly understanding the value of each little inconsequential good experience as it happens.
Before colitis the simple things didn’t give me any pleasure. Those inconsequential good experiences like seeing the minute details of nature or feeling the grass under my feet seemed corny. I lived a life where I looked up to and wanted to be something extravagant, where everyday life was boring and teenage angst had me thinking that most of my time here on Earth was going to be mundane. Since this ordeal everything I experience just seems to be more positive. It’s no longer “cool” to be negative about things because I’ve experienced something to actually be negative about. Every moment not spent worrying about my stomach/diet/job/future is slowed down to the point where I’m just happy to be here in this body.
The ducks that return to my parents house every year to breed, showing off their cute little tribe of ducklings. The frogs in my backyard that have such animated faces. The way water reflects the sun when I walk through the bush, beaming into my face while I prepare for the longest walk of my life in Nepal. These things are the good in my life that I appreciate more than I ever could have before colitis. I had normal dreams and my ideas of good were far more grandiose but now I have the ability to be happy about things far more mundane and simplistic.
The good is great and the bad is horrific. It’s like one of those balancing poles that you stand on, the closer to the centre the easier it is. Before colitis I was in the middle, I’d never experienced anything extraordinarily good or bad and life was easy. Easy wasn’t fulfilling. Now I’m about 3 feet outside the centre trying to hop between stages of complete joy and utter dogshit. It’s hard when the bad is so bad, I can’t help but get stuck thinking about the real possibilities of where this illness is going to take me in the near future. Right now I’m on every drug I can get before surgery and it terrifies the life out of me. Those joys that I get now, the good, how much of it will I still be able to experience in 5 years? I’d hoped to be doing the things I love to do until I die but there’s a real possibility that a lot of it will be taken from me. And that’s the ugly. The ugly reality that this isn’t going away. This good will always be good and the bad will always be bad. All we can do is come to terms with our lives as they are and adjust to fit. Most choices are made for us, I never chose to be sick, but I sure as hell will choose whenever I’m given the opportunity for the rest of my life. Too many days were spent letting things happen and going with the flow but it’s a naive idea, do what you feel like doing when you can do it because you don’t know when that choice will be taken from you. It will be, one day.