If you could take a pill and be instantly cured, would you?

I saw a post on Tumblr yesterday about how some chronically ill children were asked the question “If you could take a pill and be instantly cured, would you?”

In the post, the younger children said “Yes! I would take the pill!” and some of the older children were quiet. One told his friend “No. I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t take the pill.” The post deals with the idea of chronic illness as part of one’s identity. The longer an illness goes on, the more of that person’s identity the illness takes. The illness becomes the identity.

I have had migraines for eight years. I have had major depression for about four months. I have dealt with PTSD and anxiety for about as long. I’ve been dealing with trauma from my childhood for a very long time, probably half of my life.

If I could take a pill and be instantly cured, I would take it. It would be an adjustment, but here’s the thing: I’ve spent a lot of my life fighting my illness. I went to college despite the fact that I was ill. I did martial arts despite the fact that I was ill. I did theatre despite the fact that I was ill.

Depression and anxiety robbed me of theatre. Being on the stage, dancing and singing with my friends…it’s a singular experience that I can’t explain fully to someone who’s never done it. When I was in high school, I had paralyzing stage fright. I fought that stage fright, forcing myself to go to audition after audition. I wasn’t good enough in the beginning to even be in the ensemble, so I turned to stagecraft. I helped build sets, I learned to use the fly rail, I learned to use the lightboard and the soundboard (though I still prefer lights to sound). I learned how to make platforms and use tools that I highly doubt I would have used otherwise.

In college, I learned martial arts. I learned to dive roll over obstacles. I learned to break boards. I learned to manipulate joints as if they were some complicated puzzle only I would know.

In college I also learned how to design websites and edit and shoot videos. It led to my current job.

I was lucky. I had friends in high school who refused to believe that I was tone deaf, as I believed, because my older sister had told me so. They pushed me into choir, which I learned that I loved, and I sang solos within my choir. In college, my training partners became my closest friends. I count them among my family. My boss pushed me to look for solutions, not simply to ask for them.

I wouldn’t undo the past. No pill can do that. No pill can undo what years of pain does to the psyche. No pill should. While my migraines have made me weak in some ways, they’ve made me strong in others. My depression and anxiety have given me insight into a world I would have ignored otherwise. I’ve become a better person despite the fact that I am ill. I am sick, injured, but not weak.

But would I take a pill that would cure me of my migraines, of my depression, of my anxiety? Absolutely. I don’t want a life defined by illness. I want to be able to push myself again without having to worry about running out of energy. I want to be able to count on my mental health the way I used to. I want to be understood.

It is hard, this dichotomy of strong and weak. It’s extremely difficult to remember how I used to be before my illnesses got bad. It feels as if my past is laughing at me. I used to do an hour of exercise every day, then go to a three or four hour rehearsal. Driving three and a half hours to go to a six or seven hour martial arts seminar was no big thing. I would do show after show, month after month of working in this way.

I’m not sure how it started at first. The exercise was the first to go. Then I did fewer and fewer shows. I tried to get back into it with a musical, and more recently, with going to a couple of martial arts seminars.

Looking back, it was extremely dumb of me to push myself in fits and starts. That’s how people get injured. I remember sitting in my hotel room after Parkour camp, hating myself because I couldn’t do one more hour of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu after doing five and a half hours of Parkour (which is a lot harder than the movies make it look).

Hating myself gets me nowhere. I’ve only realized that recently. But I still need to push myself. Some days, that means going to the store. Some days, that means committing to a theatre event that I previously wouldn’t have even entertained. This week, it’s meant trying to go in to work every day, rather than hiding at home with my two cats.

There is no pill for my illnesses. There is no magic cure for my migraines. There is only understanding. One of my theatre friends said it best after an improv practice one day. “Well, feel better, even though you probably won’t, so…I guess, have a good migraine!” We all laughed, they uncomfortably, me genuinely. That’s what it’s like. Finding pleasure despite the pain, both physical and emotional.

So yes. I would take the pill. I would do what I can to make my illnesses better. I would do this because my identity is more than just a diagnosis. I am more than my illnesses. I’m also a martial artist, an actress, a writer, a daughter, a girlfriend, a mentor, and a web developer.

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