I decided to provide audio for this in order to avoid the irony of post which is so long it might be inaccessible to some people who might benefit from it:
For the first two years I was sick, I wasn't in denial so much as ignorant then optimistic. My health was up and down, so I assumed that very soon, things would pick up, and up and up and up. All the strategies I was given were about resisting my illness. Do as much as you can. Keep going. Have a go, even when it hurts. Stay positive.
- I went from studying a single GCSE to trying to cram two A-Levels into one year. If you're not familiar with the English and Welsh education system, that's increasing my workload by about five times, without any improvement in health.
- I began to write the story of how I got better. In the past tense. When writing anything was a tremendous effort. Which is why I only used up the first few pages of the lovely new notebook I'd chosen to write in. Such a waste!
- Most ridiculously, I asked my parents for a new bicycle for my eighteenth birthday. Before I was ill, I used to cycle all over the place. I'd had a few bikes before, but never a new one and I had absolutely never bought or asked for anything which I didn't then use. Thus I reasoned, my capacity to balance on a bicycle seat and peddle with my malfunctioning legs would just have to improve accordingly.
Of course, everyone experiences loss, but the loss associated with illness complicates regular loss - if only I wasn't ill, things would be different, maybe this might not have happened, maybe this would be easier. I wasn't devastated by the death of my maternal grandmother last year, but the fact I was too sick to attend her funeral sent me into a couple of months of emotional disorientation.
Fortunately, you don't have to mourn for the whole thing at every set-back, but loss is dark pool which settles for a while, only to be disturbed again; sometimes a mere ripple, sometimes a splash.
After that terrible third year, I never again counted so completely on my health improving, but there would be other times I overestimated my (usually deterioating) health and stamina when I really should have known better, times when I worked on the basis that my good days would be my normal days from now on This would always coincide with desperation, self-doubt and external pressure.
As soon as I started to think about writing about chronic illness and the Kubler-Ross model, I noticed how our culture discourages people with chronic illness from getting to that final phase of acceptance. Our culture actively encourages denial (as well as anger, sadness and bargaining especially). As I say, it's almost impossible to maintain denial on your own.
I generally enjoy my life very much. I'm writing about loss, but loss is part of life and doesn't stop it being mostly great. However, sometimes I'll have this conversation when someone implores me to keep positive. Not that they think I'm not making the most of life, but because I'm not highly invested in the prospect of getting better. I'll hear that I shouldn't “give up” - I should keep hoping for a cure, pestering my doctors for tests and experimental treatments, trying alternative therapies, restrictive diets and so on. I hear this both from other sick people who have got themselves a bit stuck, and from healthy people who really have no concept of how incredibly short life is and how very much shorter life is if you have to rest more than half the day.
However, I have many advantages when I roll my eyes at this. Meeting the disability rights movement made such a difference; it made my illness personal and private, separated out the things I can attempt to address (physical access, social attitudes etc.) and released me from the sense of obligation to fit our culture's model of a deserving sick person.
Hope is a great thing and looking after one's health is entirely sensible. Placing faith in the impossible (or even the rather unlikely) is a waste of life.