“Inside every older person is a younger person, wondering what the hell happened.”
— Cora Harvey Armstrong
My birthday is today. I don’t really look forward to birthdays anymore. A friend once said that “when you’re disabled, 40 is the new 80.”
He was kidding — sort of. Every year, for my birthday, I used to have a dinner party at a sushi restaurant. I miss having parties, but I don’t have the energy to invite a bunch of people, find a restaurant, and preside over the whole thing. Also, sushi has mercury, and I can’t eat white rice because I’m taking antibiotics for Lyme disease and I don’t want to get a candida infection. Finally, I can’t eat raw food because, according to my Lyme doctor, I have a parasite.
Conversation becomes problematic when I haven’t seen someone for a long time. If the person asks an innocent question like “What’s new?,” I don’t want to start off with, “Hey, I was just diagnosed with Lyme disease a month ago! I’ve had it since 2009 and didn’t know! Did you know it’s a huge epidemic? Three hundred thousand cases last year alone, and that’s probably a low estimate!”
Not so cheery, right?
(Some background: I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2009, but I also tested positive for Lyme that same year, and the doctor downplayed it. This is a big deal, because had I treated the Lyme right away, I might have been able to get rid of it. If you don’t catch Lyme early, it becomes chronic and difficult to treat.)
If people want to talk about fiction, movies, or TV shows, that’s great, because novels, cable TV, and Netflix are my escapes from illness. But I can’t talk about the vacation I just took or things my children are doing (my lack of children gets in the way of talking about them).
I can’t even talk about pets anymore, because I gave my cats to a kindly friend when I became unable to take care of them (at my low point in 2009–2010), and later one of them died. I want to get another pet, but I need to be healthy enough to take care of it if it gets sick. The cat who died contracted kidney disease and hyperthyroidism at age 15 (it figures that my cat, like me, would get thyroid disease). He needed thyroid pills and subcutaneous IVs several times per week. Even at 15, he was still an energetic, happy cat, so my cat-caretaking friend and I decided to go ahead with the treatment. I actually bought him an IV pole from the surgical supply store. (The salesperson raised his eyebrows when I said it was for a cat; I felt like I had a giant banner that said “Crazy Cat Lady” over my head.) Anyway, my cat, Simon, was OK with the pills, but, not surprisingly, he was not a fan of the IVs:
Cute, right? This was his classic “I’m adorable, so now give me food” look. He was a great cat. I miss him. He wasn’t a scratcher or a biter, but he had a take-no-prisoners attitude. For instance, when I first moved in with J, J wanted to keep our bedroom door closed at night because he didn’t want Simon to come into the room while we were asleep. I explained that Simon only liked to come in for 30 seconds and then leave, and we probably wouldn’t even notice, but J is an extremely light sleeper, so we agreed to keep the door closed. Over two months, Simon, a tiny but powerful cat, worked diligently until he managed to destroy the lower door hinge. We knew the landlord wouldn’t replace it, so we just kept the door open, and Simon went back to coming in and leaving 30 seconds later. I think Simon was indignant that we had dared close the door in the first place, because, you know, it was HIS apartment. (We paid the rent and bought the cat food, but details like those are irrelevant.)
But back to my birthday — spontaneous birthday plans are tough. Going out requires a type of strategic planning usually required for military campaigns. How many hours can I manage, is there something there I can eat, how will I get to and from the destination, can I handle the amount of walking, and how much recovery time will I need?
Usually, if I feel well enough to attend a social event, it reinforces how left out of life I feel. Some of my friends are parents, most hold down demanding jobs, and some manage to be parents, work, and find the time to do volunteer work or go back to school. I barely have the energy to get to and from my doctors’ appointments. I try not to compare myself because it makes me depressed.
It’s funny, when I was healthier I hated my body because I never felt it conformed to conventional beauty standards. Never thin enough, never fit enough, never pretty enough, hair too curly. The advertising industry does terrible things to women, bombarding us with pictures of professionally styled, Photoshopped models to which we compare our everyday, stylist-free selves. Even the models don’t really look like that. Now I would do anything to have my old, not-pretty-enough body back. I think of all the things it could do: it could run, it could go on adventure-travel trips, it could dance, and it could try new cuisines without worrying about allergic reactions.
I have learned to appreciate my body’s improvements. If I’m able to do something I couldn’t do a year ago, I’m happy and grateful. Four years ago I could barely get out of bed, but thanks to physical therapy, acupuncture, and osteopathy I can do so much more. I even went to the museum last week by myself. I only had the energy to walk through one show, but I was happy to see paintings I had only seen in books.
Still, I’m tired. I’ve been working hard on my health: eating plain, organic food; taking medications and supplements; avoiding allergens; doing daily physical therapy exercises; and doing weekly rehab Pilates. I have wellness burnout.
So I’m asking, dear universe, for my former body back, just for my birthday. And I would like to spend that day in Paris, because I’ve never been, and I would like not to have the dairy allergy and the histamine issues because those will interfere with the wine and French cheeses I plan to consume, and could you also remove the allergic contact dermatitis so I can buy some fabulous French products? Finally, please take away the back problems, fibromyalgia, and Lyme so I can walk around the city and see the Louvre and Versailles.
That’s not unreasonable, right? How about enough time for a side trip to Barcelona?