" ...because that was supposed to be the narrative of illness. It was a hurdle you jumped over or a battle you won. Illness is a story told in the past tense."
When I tell people that I have an incurable chronic illness, they wait for the "and." This "and" makes up the time and space that sits between what has been and what is going to be. The "has been," of course, is the worst of it; the trials and tribulations, the unexplainable pain. However, in contrast, the "going to be" makes up the future idealism of better days, times in which to rejoice. Perhaps they aren't asking me to say that I'm cured, but they are asking me to know the next step, they are asking me to tell them that maybe not today, but someday, it will be okay. But it won't.
This isn't a commentary on anyone specifically, and this is not a bad thing—this is an observation. Humans want a happy ending; they want an ending that doesn't seem hopeless. They want a plan. The issue is that the burden of providing the plans, the future beauties, and the idealistic images falls on the shoulders of the afflicted. Those who are sick are tasked with the chore of cleaning up life's dirty portions, tidying up the room of unfortunate circumstances and inviting over friends and family for lunch. The real secret is that the inside of that room doesn't look like that unless guests are invited over. No one paints their illness in rose-colored hues to hide the truth from themselves, but despite the illness being exhausting, they do it for the company they keep.
As best said by John Green, "Illness is a story told in the past tense." You hear people talk about how they had the flu, but they feel better. You hear people talk about how they had cancer, but the chemo and radiation worked wonders. What you don't hear is the present tense narrative. You don't hear about the "pain," because can our language really encompass what real pain is? Can we take the feelings of an ongoing affliction and put it into words? I have words like inflamed, hurt, excruciating, and mild. When I use them, does it truly convey that state of being? The answer is no. The real picture that is painted is one of the listener's own experiences, one to which they can relate, which, in actuality, is not your story at all, but theirs.
I can see it in people's eyes. The look, the pleading for a story of triumph, a story of someone who was once broken, but is now whole. I suppose the thing I'm trying to get at is that, sometimes, and this can be applied generously to many different circumstances, something that is broken simply stays broken. Even if you tried to fix it, it was better off the way it was. Be it the loss of a family member, a chronic illness, or something you can't put your finger on. The thing about broken things is that, as long as you are okay with them being broken, as long as you have come to terms with their presence in the room, with their brokenness permeating all things, they can stay that way and it only affects you. Stop putting your afflictions in the past tense. Let things break.