I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other day about painkillers and the issue of control—namely, how painkillers rendered her too out of it to make decisions or know what she was saying or doing.
Not exactly the best feeling in the world.
I nodded, her words reminding me of all the times I’ve come out of anesthesia after surgery. For me, those initial waking moments when I can’t focus my eyes, can’t see without my glasses, and can’t make the words swimming in my brain come out of my mouth in any logical way, are the epitome of loss of control.
And, as I may have mentioned before, I am somewhat of a control freak.
But injuries and surgeries aside, the issue of control is obviously so closely linked to living with any kind of chronic illness. Sure there are things we can do every day to manage conditions and there are preventative steps we can take, but when push comes to shove, so much is not up to us: whether we’re born with genetic conditions, whether autoimmune or other diseases sneak up when we’ve been otherwise, whether diseases we’ve done everything to manage progress anyway.
In the past, my quest to impose order on the chaos that was my medical existence pushed me to extremes. I wanted to do everything, to do everything perfectly, and to be in charge of all the details.
Clearly life doesn’t work that way, healthy or sick. It just took me about two decades to figure that out.
But of course, maintaining a sense of control is still a part of daily life. It isn’t as defining a characteristic as it used to be, but it’s there. None of this is breaking news, obviously, but I did take a fresh look at all of this when someone recently made the connection between writing and control.
My whole life I’ve always considered work, in whatever age-appropriate form it took, to be the antidote to medically-induced chaos. Meeting a deadline no matter what condition I was in meant I still exerted authority over illness. Still having responsibilities and roles meant I was something other than just a sick person—I’m sure many of you can relate to that, regardless of disease or profession.
Now that I’m an adult, now that I’m a writer, writing is my work. But it’s also a healthier way of controlling things that goes beyond the fact that it is my livelihood—no matter what state my body is in, no matter if I can’t sit up to type or I am supposed to be somewhere else, I can still write. I can still control a fundamental aspect of who I am.
So in that sense, I’m pretty lucky.