Not too long ago, I got a referral to go see a specialist in Seattle. It meant a plane flight and a day of navigating the airport and a hospital I’d never been to. My mom went with me, which was a huge blessing. But for a person with severe fatigue and fatigue-related symptoms, I felt like I was spending all day in a workout class I hadn’t signed up for. My mom said to me at the end of the day, “Well, today was really relaxing.” And she meant it. And all I was thinking was, “Where’s the nearest place I can lie down and stay for the next three days without someone stumbling over my body?” A short plane ride, a gentle walk through the airport, a shuttle ride, and a short walk down a hospital hallway shouldn’t have left me aching, winded, dizzy, and tired beyond belief, but it did.
As we sat in the airport eating our lunch, I looked around at the people walking around us (‘cause some of the best people watching is done at airports), and I saw things I miss from how life used to be. I saw people walking along without effort, even walking fast, something that takes a huge toll on my body. I saw people carrying heavy bags. I saw people going on vacation. I saw people who were on their way to a destination where they got to go outside and do interesting things without pain or debilitating fatigue. All that missing made me sad. I used to travel a lot and have fun doing it. Now, it’s agony.
Sometime during the day, I made myself stop thinking about all the things I missed, because I knew if I kept doing that, I’d make myself crazy. And super sad. I was determined to have a good day, even if it was hard and centered on a long doctor’s appointment in a tiny windowless room that smelled like antiseptic. I decided to start noticing all the things around me that made me happy. And, random as they were, I noticed them.
The fish and chips for lunch, something I rarely get to eat.
The live music in the airport.
The woman with the really cool crocheted tank top (yep, I’m a crochet nerd).
The beautiful Seattle scenery- I really love that place!
The two nice shuttle drivers we had.
The young doctor who’d been to parts of Africa that I had been to and actually understood what it’s like to leave a place you really love.
The really cool phlebotomist who also was named Mary.
The guy in the airport who was cross stitching while he waited for his plane to board- seriously, how many men do you know who cross stitch and are okay with doing it in a public place? Um, none… except that guy.
The guy on our plane home who looked just like Patrick Stewart… with a mustache. And since he was sitting in such a place where I could only see the top of his head and sometimes his eyes when he turned, he looked just like Patrick Stewart. I don’t know why that gave me so much happiness, but it did. I’m sure if he saw me out of the corner of his eye, he was probably wondering why that strange woman was staring at him with a giddy smile on her face. Yep, that was me.
And finally, Honey Mustard Pretzel Twists. Yep, those annoying little packs of pretzels that they give you on planes that not only make you insanely thirsty, but also more hungry than you were before you ate them. The fact that made them super great, though? One of my doctors put me on a Paleo diet a while back and I cheated with the Honey Mustard Pretzel Twists. Some of you might love the Paleo diet, but I’m not too much of a fan. So those pretzel twists tasted sort of like forbidden heaven.
All those random things helped me realize that my life with a chronic illness isn’t about losing things and mourning them and walking around with a heavy weight on my shoulders. I can still love life, even when it’s hard. Even when the smartest doctor says that he doesn’t know what’s wrong with me. Even when I am exhausted from the smallest things. I can still find things to love and to laugh at. I can still be happy. It’s just a little harder than it used to be.