For a while now, I have been dogged by compliments. Compliments about how good I look. Compliments on how strong I seem. But above all, compliments on how much better I appear. And I want to appreciate it. I want to feel pride in my immense accomplishments, or at the very least joy in the chance that have been given to me. I know that these words are only meant positively. But for some reason, all I feel is discomfort. An instinct to protest, to evade the label of ‘better’.
And that doesn’t make any sense. After all, in many ways, I am better. I am better at managing my energy. Better at managing my medications. I am stronger. I look more fit.
I should take pride in that. After all, I have been working incredibly hard, for over a year, to bring my body to this state of relative balance.
When I think of each individual achievement, I do feel a certain amount of pride. When I think of how, over a period of 7 months, I progressed from walking 100m to 5km. When I think of the endless hunt for medical care, working through countless doctors and drugs, creating diaries of side effects, pain levels, and triggers, finally landing on the correct medication. I feel as though I have worked hard for my recovery, and I feel good about that effort that I have invested.
But for some reason, I balk when someone tells me how much better I am.
And maybe it’s not simply the compliment. Maybe it’s the surrounding attitude.
For the past several weeks, I have noticed a distinct change in how others approach me. Those who did not meet my eyes now feel comfortable enough to joke at my expense. I am not given an easy out for a commitment anymore, and my needs are not a priority in the formation of plans.
And a big part of me loves it. Relishes it. Because it feels so normal. It feels like the past few years never really happened, like I’m the same person I always was. And everyone is happy about it, and willing to jump right back in where we left off.
It’s wonderful, it really is. But it’s also a lie.
The past few years did happen. They changed me in ways that I am only now beginning to appreciate, both physically and emotionally.
And while my physical condition and management have dramatically improved, I am not cured. I still live with chronic illness. There are still days when part of my body simply refuses to function, still mornings that I wake up unable to rise out of bed for hours. And there always will be.
Yes, I am better. I am astonishingly better. I am better at managing my condition, my time, my life. I am even physically stronger.
But I am also not. My condition has not disappeared. My work ethic has not changed.
To react to me differently now, now that my struggles have turned invisible once more, feels unfair. To gush about my current condition seems to darken the me that was, such a very short time ago.
And maybe that’s why I bristle at the kind words, meant only to please me. To encourage me.
Regardless of my physical condition, I am, and always have been, nothing more or less than myself.
I am strong, fighting just as hard as I did when I had nothing to show for it.
I am smart, rationing my energy just as precisely as I tracked my symptoms.
I am many things, and they have remained constant.
My outer layer, my appearance, my superficial abilities may be altered. May even be better.
But I’m not.
I’m not better.
I’m just me.