Wednesday, 22 April 2015

I Am Not a Fictional Character

I am not a fictional character- and although that might seem obvious to some, this is something that needs to be emphasized.

A little over a year ago I was feeling well enough to have my first real outing to the mall with my mother. This was the first time that I didn't need an electric scooter or wheelchair. I had gone to the bank and the bank teller started asking me all of these extremely personal questions. While some people like being approached about Pulmonary Hypertension because it gives them a chance to raise awareness, I do not share this same openness. I have shared this story before on the blog, but for those of you who don't know, the bank teller basically asked me if I am dying. She also asked if I need to wear oxygen for "the rest of the time I have left." This was my first real outing- it was the first time I was approached about the obvious illness that I have by a stranger. I nervously answered her questions. At the end of the discussion she FINALLY gave me my money and said it was such an "honor meeting someone" like me. As if it was on her bucket list to talk to someone with an obvious serious illness. Afterwards I felt really hurt- and silly for answering all of her beyond personal and hurtful questions. It was something I didn't feel comfortable talking about- and truthfully, she shouldn't felt comfortable asking a stranger those sorts of questions.

Over that past year and almost a half I have encountered a lot of these situations. At first I first I didn't leave the house much after diagnosis because I could barely move. Then I didn't leave the house because I couldn't handle the comments or rude ogles. It felt like every time I tried to leave the house, something would happen to make me further isolate myself.

I felt brave enough to go to the health food store with my dad last summer to get a smoothie. A man not much younger than myself nearly yelled "DO YOU WEAR THAT TO BREATHE?" It was quite busy- I remember seeing the other people around us turn to stare at me. I said "yes" very quietly and shot him my nastiest bitch face. He replied with "cool," and finally left me alone after he realized I was not amused. It is not cool that I need to wear oxygen. It makes me feel extremely self conscious, it makes my "invisible" illness more visible, it limits me, and I am still trying to wrap my head around being disabled with such a serious diagnosis. It would certainly be rude and unacceptable to ask a stranger in a wheelchair if they required it to move. There is a difference between being curious and being rude- and sometimes being curious does not grant you the right to be intrusive.

I have had friends romanticize my relationship with my partner, as if we are in some kind of star crossed movie where someone falls in love with an ailing girl and stays by her side and go on one last awesome adventure. Pulmonary Hypertension is not romantic. The cannula hurts the inside of my nose when we kiss. I am scared he can see my illness eating away at my lungs when he looks at me. I cannot explain the incredible guilt I feel sometimes when I think about how I may not here someday, and I how I am dragging someone so young along into this unknown journey with me. Relationships are only complicated by illness. It is nothing like the movies would lead you to believe.

When I was first diagnosed I had loved ones tell me that if they were in my shoes, they would travel across the world. I suppose this assumption isn't their fault if they have never met another person with an illness like PH before- movies lead people to believe that this is a liable idea. High altitude, like mountains or air plane rides, are really bad for people with lung diseases like Pulmonary Hypertension. I have not watched The Fault in the Stars (and I don't plan to anytime soon,) but I would assume that someone with end stage cancer that has spread to their lungs would not get clearance to fly, or have the ability to go on such an adventure.

Sometimes people call me "brave", "strong" and worst of all an "inspiration." While these are all positive things, and I know people mean well by it, you have to consider that I did not chose to put myself in this position. If I had a choice I wouldn't have chosen to get sick, let alone choose to have PH. People have referred to me as these things just for doing normal things, or  for doing things that I am required to do now.

What I mean by all of this is that I am not the diagnosis that was given to me.

I have told pharmacies and doctors not to refer to me as a "patient." I am Serena. I am 27 years old. I have a grumpy little black bunny who I have had for 12 years, and she is probably 136 years old in rabbit years. I love chocolate, tea and music. I am creative. I was going to go to university for political science, but decided to major in fine art. I love to read books on the deck in the spring and watch the birds fly by. That is me- those are the things people should ask me about, not the plastic tube dangling from my nose.

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