Sometimes (read: most of the time) I think I am making things up about my body. That my ailments are manifestations of my addled brain alone, that I imagine or make myself ill as a means of proving to the world that I am special or deserve attention or something.
Is this related to a childhood with a chronically ill mother, one in which I was constantly reminded by the world (though not by her, I hasten to assure you) that she was Sick, that I must never think of my own body, because hers mattered most? Is it related to my fear that I will become sick like her? To, perhaps, an illogical resentment of her being sick? To an even more irrational (but very American) belief that being sick is a matter of morality, health a question of will power? Maybe.
An example: at the Baby Factory the other day, I was divested of several vials of blood, then sent to talk to billing. I leaned against the cubicle wall while the nice woman there showed me paperwork. I was dizzy and had trouble following her points, finding the words I needed to ask questions. But it wasn’t that much blood, after all, not nearly the vats they’d taken before our original, surreal IVF orientation, which I spent convulsively shuddering under a large, wool shawl. Probably I was using the knowledge that blood had been taken as an excuse to indulge myself. Just in case, I ate part of the pastry in my bag while we waited to meet with the scheduler, Maribelle. See? There’s the I indulgence, right there.
Maribelle came to lead us back to her office, and I made sure to walk very close to Sugar, to consciously notice when she slowed her pace. We have to stop so Maribelle can unlock the door, I told myself, carefully, the way you remind yourself to be careful when drunk. (Our acting teachers always said that it was a mistake to play drunk characters as out of control, that what typifies drunkenness is excessive attention to control, where a sober person can relax and still move her body correctly.) I sat down careful at the desk, thought methodically and hard about whether the dark marks on the roof across the street meant it was raining. I planned my route to get a coke after the meeting. I fought the urge to put my head against the glass and close my eyes, and I pretended that I understood what Maribelle was saying, because of course I could understand it if I’d just stop indulging myself.
Sugar watched how firmly I was blinking, how I was graciously apologizing for needing dates repeated, for misunderstanding the protocol and forgetting about the polyp-check. She told Maribelle I’d had blood drawn, and the next thing you know, Maribelle had produced a can of apple juice and a cup, apologizing that the juice wasn’t cold.
And what do you know? After I drank the juice, I didn’t feel dizzy anymore, I could find at least some of my words, and the calendar wasn’t so hard to interpret, either. I don’t much care for apple juice, especially warm, so maybe that it worked means I wasn’t just indulging myself, after all. Maybe I wasn’t well.
Similarly, I found myself wondering last night, when I was finally done with a long, crampy day of first taking care of the Bean, then teaching a night class, then traveling on late-night trains and subways (none of which combines well with serious narcotics), finally able to take first one half and then, still achy, another half of the Percocet tab I’d been thinking of all day, whether I’m just exaggerating the pain of my periods. Sure, they used to be excruciating, but what if I only think I need strong drugs now because I’m afraid of feeling pain, not because the pain I feel now really is all that bad?
Please just take the medicine, Sugar says. You’re not addicted to it, and there is no downside to treating your pain. So I did, a little convinced I just have her fooled, too.
But you know, I don’t think it’s my fear of pain that woke me up, two hours later, gripping my stomach and belly, feeling those familiar knives and stones. I think, maybe, I’m not as healthy as I would will myself to be, if only my will had anything to do with it.