Monday, January 16, 2017

A Party Into Chronic Adulthood

Birthdays were always my favorite. I enjoyed them so much, that when the elementary school news announced the daily birthdays, I delightedly went down to the office to receive my "birthday pencil" on November 1. I thought nothing of the fact that it was not January 11, my actual birthday. The joy derived from that little mistake was priceless. When younger, I responded to well wishes with, "happy birthday to you too!" I wanted everyone to experience the joy derived from turning a year older. Chronic illness changes the birthday experience though. In many ways, chronic illness as an adult is significantly more challenging than as a child or teen.

Last week I turned 20. This birthday lacked the described elation. If we are being honest here, I cried. I know, I know. In retrospect, I should have been happy. There have been multiple occasions since 2015 when I questioned if I would live to see the age of 20. Even still, I cried. 

Birthdays are difficult with chronic illness. A birthday marking adulthood is remarkably harder, alluding to how different my life is in comparison to the average healthy young adult. It is a reminder that I am not where I should be - self-sufficient, with a job and school, but with freedom entwined in all of the responsibilities. Illness is an impediment to adulthood, as it interferes with my ability to work, drive, provide for myself, and balance daily care. I was more independent in middle school. 

I do not want to be 20. With every passing year, the deficiency of independence becomes less acceptable. When I awoke swollen, flushed, with bone pain, dystonia, and other miscellaneous symptoms, like every morning, it only implied another year of dependence. That is why I cried. 

I yearn for the birthday excitement of the past, reveling in the newfound sense of maturity as a child or teen who knew it all, but really knew nothing. It is special, the feeling of "growing up," like the lapse of a single day appends infinite wisdom to the number of the new age. This year I am not invincible. I am alive though. And I will find joy in that.