A story about being sick

Discussion has swirled around the last few days about a couple of revolting articles about a woman talking about being sick. Plenty of folks objected, most particularly, the woman being discussed.

But focusing on the two writers, or on the outlets that published them, misses the point. This is not an isolated blip to be outraged about; this is exactly what the conventional narrative about illness says.

Be nice, don’t complain. Be inspirational, die quietly. Don’t show the messy bits, always be positive. Advocate for your anecdata, ignore the science.

Illness is temporary, curable, about your bad attitude or hidden emotional trauma. Illness is a passing phase between the rest of your real life.

Illness is private, hidden. Something to be endured until it passes. Being sick is what happened, not what is. Getting well is always possible. This ridiculous narrative is what those two writers are well versed in.

Their indignation that social media has allowed actual sick people to speak for themselves, while they are actually sick, seeps through every word.

This narrative has space for the post-sick memoir, always with a happy ending. This story only has room for one kind of sick person; one that does not frighten or demand or dare to say terrible things out loud.

Here, the sick person is passive; laying in their sick bed waiting to be magically healed. In this story, the sick person can be spoken about as though they have the agency of a doll. Politely pitied and whispered about behind closed doors. Care contingent on playing that character properly.

Inside this story, it becomes perfectly clear how those two articles came to be written. This story is one that is told over and over again, except this time, the subject refused to follow the script.

This narrative has always been wrong, has always been about the well, not the sick. This story is told to calm fears, a modern day charm to ward off noxious spirits. See, they got better, and so can I. I will not die.

This story winds its way through social policy, with pension bludgers and unnecessary doctor visits. This story raises money for some sick people, but not others. This story silences other stories about being sick.

Because in this story, the actual person who is sick has to wait before getting on with their life. They must stoically, silently endure until that inevitable day when everything is ok again. Because everyone knows that you can’t have any kind of life if you are sick.

In this story, the hard parts, the difficult bits, the despairing times can not be included. Because this story is not actually about sick people at all. If it was, it would be a very different story.



About bluntshovels

Freelance writer, with an unhealthy interest in Senate committees.
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One Response to A story about being sick

  1. Mark Riboldi says:

    Yes – very true – great piece!

    The idea that ‘illness’ is something that should be kept swept under the doormat fails it seems on at least two counts. One, it appears to be focused more on appeasing those who are uncomfortable with being confronted by the reality of illness. It’s a fault that expands to plenty of other ‘undesirables’. Second, it’s denying the right of the individual in question to live how they chose. People living with an illness, or whatever, should be able to choose the level of interaction they have with other people, much as anyone should. Propagating the delusion that illness shouldn’t be talked about pushes people into a corner they may not want/need to be in.

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