Today is an anniversary date for me. Six years ago, at the age of 24, I was diagnosed with the neuromuscular autoimmune disease, Myasthenia Gravis (MG). I had drooping eyelids, loss of balance (falling down frequently), loss of feeling in my arms and legs, dysphasia (difficulty swallowing), and difficulty speaking coherently, among other symptoms. After a harrowing two weeks in the hospital, the doctor gave me a 50/50 chance of living on October 24, 2008. This year, I turned thirty. With five illnesses, turning thirty is nothing short of a miracle. Recently, I struggled to find my friend Adam a birthday card because all the cards at the store were depressing. The universal theme was: life sucks and then you die. I noticed that all of the 40th birthday cards had a similar theme: it’s all downhill from here. Several of my friends and Fashionably ill readers have a life expectancy of thirty due to illnesses like muscular dystrophy. In certain parts of the world, the average life expectancy is forty due to the HIV/AIDS crisis. I get heartbreaking messages from parents whose teenage children are fighting to stay alive. My question is: Why do some healthy people loathe birthdays so much? (Note: I said some—not all.)
Why Does Society Treat Birthdays Like a Burden?
No really. Why? Is it regrets? Sick people have regrets too. And some of us don’t have the luxury of time or resources (like energy and not being in pain 24/7) to fix those mistakes. Is it getting wrinkles and losing hair? Many sick people also experience changes in their appearance due to illness itself, treatments like chemo, and medications ranging from Prednisone to antidepressants. Living with chronic illness feels like we’re losing control—whether the disease is visible or invisible, the pain is physical or mental—many people often have our plans constantly interrupted, sometimes on a daily basis. As I said in my last post, I’m finally getting my life back on track after a five-year MG detour. As I wrote about previously (5 Reasons People Abandon A Sick Friend), sick people’s social lives are often disrupted.
I lost a friend with bipolar disorder (an illness I have) to suicide twelve years ago; she was seventeen. Why does society treat another year of life like a burden, when so many of us are fighting to stay alive? I’m not trying to preach here; I’m just genuinely confused. I would understand the gloomy greeting cards if I were buying or a “sorry that tornado swept your house away” card. I know people with diseases like lupus, fibromyalgia, primary immune deficiency syndrome (PIDS), and cancer that complain less than some of my healthy friends.
When The Planner Becomes Ill
Before I got MG, I was the planner. I threw fabulous parties. I used to host sock-hops and cook six-course meals for friends. It’s hard when the planner becomes ill; the interpersonal dynamics are reversed. This year I didn’t do much for my thirtieth birthday because I just didn’t have the energy to plan anything. I kept telling my mom that all I really wanted was a New Kids on the Block birthday cake; I’ve seen some really creative NKOTB cakes online like this one. Apparently, she didn’t hear me. Last week, my friend Barbi gave me the best surprise of my life. She got me concert tickets, and I got to meet New Kid on the Block, Jordan Knight after the show! I’ve only loved him since 1989. That night, fellow NKOTB fans kept asking me if it was my birthday. It wasn’t but it was like celebrating my birthday six months late or Christmas coming three months early. Barbi’s compassion and generosity blessed me. Her boyfriend, Jeff, and a mutual friend, Ellen, helped execute this surprise. Yes, being sick sucks and things often don’t turn out the way we planned. But sometimes, when we least expect it, special happens.
–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno
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