Nobody likes being sick.
It makes your body feel gross and steals away the better part of your brain functions. Since a whole lot of unexpected and unpleasant sensations are around to preoccupy us in such times of illness, we can often forget how to conduct ourselves as decent human beings.
Most people around us try to be understanding and compassionate individuals, so they give free passes to the temporarily or chronically ill. Victims of disease are putting up with internal attacks and need the support of others.
That’s why those others brush it off when their sick friends or family members forget their manners, or act in selfish, mean-spirited ways. They’re allowed to—they’re sick.
That was my excuse for roughly 11 months last year. I was diagnosed with Lyme disease and was suddenly up to my neck in reasons to be a crabby bitch.
Lyme disease is a nasty bacterial infection transmitted by ticks. It’s fairly unpleasant in its own right with the fatigue, aching joints, and fevers that come with it, but more than unpleasant, it’s scary.
If caught too late, Lyme disease can cause a whole slew of terrifying symptoms, such as partial paralysis.
Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled to have it in my body.
The whole thing even started in a particularly irksome way:
I was on my way to give blood with my mom. While we try to do this fairly often, there was even more motivation that day because the blood center was giving free pints of ice cream away to donors. Awesome.
We were nearly there when I got a call from my doctor—I had recently gone in for some tests to figure out why I had been so tired as of late. We figured it was a Vitamin D deficiency, or maybe even Mono, so I was anxious to find out if I would have to endure my sisters’ taunts for having “the kissing disease.”
There are a million dramatic stories out there about receiving bad news, so I’ll spare you the suspenseful dialogue overlaid with thumping-heart soundtrack. I had Lyme disease.
All of a sudden, I was a sick person. I was sick, and I wasn’t eligible for free ice cream anymore. Worst combination ever.
I was in a bad mood from the start, and then found myself facing the trials that many diseased individuals go through. Some of them were more Lyme-specific, but most are the general frustrations of the sickly.
Finding a good doctor is quite possibly more difficult than finding the love of your life. While I had a great doctor in New Jersey, I was days away from returning to Colorado when I found out about my illness.
Thus began the mad scramble to find a doctor in Colorado who knew anything about my predominantly East Coast disease. There weren’t many, and the search was exhausting. One disappointing doctor even suggested that Lyme disease didn’t actually exist, and that my symptoms were the result of a bad attitude.
I did eventually find an amazing doctor, but it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t cheap. I understood and appreciated the fact that I was paying for the years of education and experience my doctor had, and not just my 45-minute visits. Still, that doesn’t make the bills go down any easier.
While many elephant readers probably have varying opinions on this, I consider antibiotics a necessary evil. They’re terrible for you and I avoid them whenever possible, but I didn’t particularly want to fuck around when it came to Lyme disease. I popped what my doctor told me to.
Side effects abounded and I was reduced to a dizzy, headachy, queasy mess with no appetite for most of a year.
As the main symptom that led to my diagnosis, it’s no surprise that Lyme disease made me sleepy.
I couldn’t get away with less than 14 hours of sleep, and I would be too tired to function properly within three hours of waking up. I was a full-time student and just barely scraped by that year. It felt like somebody had stolen my body and replaced it with a sack of potatoes.
When I didn’t manage to get enough rest, I was cranky because I was tired. When I did get enough rest, I was upset because I felt unproductive.
All of these added up to one incredibly cantankerous individual. Everything bugged me.
Even things that would delight other people, such as compliments on my figure, were likely to set me off. I lost about 15 lb. while I was sick as a result of the medication, and people kept on telling me how great I looked. While a well-behaved person would accept these remarks graciously, regardless of their feelings on the matter, I had a tendency to reprimand people for their encouragement of unhealthy weight-loss.
I know they meant well, and I know they weren’t suggesting that I stay on the harmful meds so I could remain skinny, but the comments kept getting under my sleep-deprived skin.
Another time, while doing homework next to my boyfriend, I noticed that his eyelid was making a weird clicking noise every time he blinked. It wasn’t a loud noise, but it kept distracting me from my work.
Devoid of any semblance of sanity or tact, I blew up at him for something that he had been completely unaware of and had no control over.
That’s right. I got mad at him… for blinking.
It was sometime around then that I realized how much of a monster my condition was turning me into.
I can’t say that my epiphany inspired a complete turn-around in my attitude and actions. I was still irrational and angry at times, but I learned to take responsibility for those moments and try to keep them under control.
When you’re sick and mean, you can say, “that was the medication talking, not me,” all you want. While that may be true, it doesn’t change the fact that your actions may have been hurtful and thoughtless. We need to think of others, even when we’re stuck in the self-absorbed fog of illness.
So next time you’re sick, pop some SAM-e or St. John’s Wort (great natural mood-stabilizers), and remember to say you’re sorry to the people who love you and put up with you.
Sara Bruskin recently graduated from the University of Colorado, and is working as an intern for Colorado Common Cause, and elephantjournal.com.
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