A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a movie theater with my mom. The lights were dim. Around us, the low murmurs of quiet conversation. Everyone waiting for the movie to begin.
“So,” My mom turned to me. Lips pursed, a frown. “I read your blog post.”
“Oh yeah?” I chewed on the inside of my cheek, trying to remember if I’d written something horribly offensive or obscene. Something worthy of a Mom Frown.
It had been a pretty standard post: a semi-profound story about the chronic pain that accompanies my all-mighty bowel muncher of a disease. There hadn’t even been one F-bomb (a guaranteed Mom Frown Scenario).
“So,” I fingered at the lid of my water bottle. “Did you like it?”
She inhaled. Sharp and short. “Well…” A pause. “Well, no, because I know you’re suffering…”
I turned toward her, my hand pressed against my chest. Eyes wide. “I’m not suffering…”
She gave me a Mom Look. Skeptical, but somehow still supportive. “Okay…”
We drifted into another conversation, talking until the theater lights dimmed and the screen went black.
But, I couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d said. That word. Suffering. It had a weight to it. A feeling that I couldn’t quite place. Like a jigsaw piece jammed into the wrong puzzle.
That’s not me, I thought. I’m not suffering.
My large intestine disagreed. Hot pain pulsed through my right side, and I squirmed in my seat, digging my fingers into my skin.
This isn’t suffering…right?
It was in this moment of crisis that my brain did the only logical thing that it could do: it started thinking about Toy Story.
That’s right. The beloved 1995 classic about what toys do when we’re not watching.
You see, there’s a point in the movie in which Buzz Lightyear, a toy space man who doesn’t realize that he is, in fact, a toy, discovers the truth about himself. He sees a commercial for Buzz Lightyear toys and realizes that his perception of himself is a lie (and then he enters a downward spiral in which he becomes Mrs. Nesbitt, a deranged tea-drinker with one arm).
Of course, it’s not like Buzz hadn’t been warned about this reality. Early on in the movie, Woody, a sassy toy cowboy, very rudely tells Buzz that he is only “a child’s play-thing” and that he can’t really fly. He only falls “with style.” (There may be a snake in your boot, Woody, but you don’t have to be such a butt-munch).
But, hearing a hard truth and understanding it for yourself are two very different things.
And as I sat in the movie theater replaying my mom’s words in my head and digging my fingers into the hot pain in my side, I couldn’t help but think that I was like Buzz Lightyear on the cusp of Mrs. Nesbitt-hood. That I had realized the truth about myself, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t want it. Because, who wants to suffer? And who wants to be thought of as suffering?
Don’t worry. When I got home from the movie, I didn’t go full-on Mrs. Nesbitt. But, I did start thinking about my experience with Crohn’s Disease and how everyone around me imagines my experience. Am I ‘that girl suffering from the incurable butt disease?’ Is that how everyone thinks of me?
But, the more I thought about this hideous possibility, the more I thought about the other things that people have called me. You see, I’ve heard that I’m brave, resilient, and strong. That I’m struggling, fighting, and surviving. And yet, hearing these things hasn’t changed my experience. I do not feel any more brave after being called brave. Nor do I feel any stronger after being called strong. Why should this change, now that I have been given another name?
Maybe my mom was right. Maybe I am suffering. But, that’s not all that I’m doing. I’m also living, and loving, and writing, and laughing, and doing, and trying.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: I may be suffering, but I’m suffering with style.
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