I Always Knew My Chronic Illness Would Come Back. Here's How I Cope.

Those of us will illnesses that never quite disappear know moments of calm and comfort are few and far between.
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I tried to say it as soft as I could — casually like I was quoting a line from my favorite movie. It was always a topic I knew I had to face eventually, but one that I didn’t know how to approach — even after a year and a half of practice.

“You know, it’s going to happen again,” I said; one breath. “Living with a chronic illness ― it’s like living on train tracks. And someday I’m going to wake up, and it’s going to be here again, and the train is going to hit me. And there’s not going to be anything I can do. I’m really just waiting for it.”

I paused, “You need to know that.”

He paused and smiled at me, “You don’t know that.”

We were standing in the middle of the street. I was on a date. It was cold ― enough for me to grip myself a little bit tighter. I stopped him, this time more firmly. “But it’s true. You need to know that.” I looked up into his face, “It’s important that you know this is real.”

He paused for a moment, and then furrowed his brows.“Why do you always talk about your living on a timeline?” He opened the door to his truck. I jumped in shotgun. The engine started in the background. “You don’t know that.”

“Because I am,” I whispered. “I really, really am.”

Two days later, sitting on the ground in my bathroom, I scrolled through a recent batch of blood work results. Most of them I’d seen the previous day, but I was rechecking for one in particular — a ritual I’d done many times before. For the last year and a half, my life-threatening autoimmune disease had been in remission to a certain extent. We now know that it never really went away, but it was controlled enough for me to find my life again. I got to go to college, travel abroad and finally look and feel the way I wanted. I got to be involved for the first time in my life in school and ride a bike again. It was all thrilling ― like I couldn’t possibly believe that it was all real. I felt as if I had won . But in every moment by myself, my happiness was bittersweet. At night, I was still awake; replaying what the moment would be like again — the moment I found out it was all going to fall apart.

Then, it happened. My blood work results were high again. The second I read them I knew they were too high for me to be okay. The train had come and hit me hard at 9am on a soft, gray Tuesday at the end of November.

I remember setting down the phone and continuing to brush out my hair. I’d just gotten out of the shower. I was going to be late to class, but I took one long look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t cry. I didn’t even move for a solid minute. I just stood there and observed how it felt.

At that moment, I could have never seen the next three weeks coming, which is where I’m writing this from now. I could have never anticipated that my body wouldn’t take the treatment and that instead, it would fight against it. I could have never anticipated the diagnosis of something new or the possibility of chemotherapy. I could have never anticipated the way my sister held me when I cried for the first time, or how it felt to tell my best friends that everything was back again. I had no idea what was coming, and I knew it in that moment too. All I knew was that it had finally happened. The train had arrived.

So when I walked to class that morning, I put my headphones in and wandered into math like everybody else. But for those few minutes, while was wrapped in my jacket, innocently crunching on leaves as I walked, I was ok. Perfectly calm, happy as could be. Walking into whatever storm waited for me at the end. And that’s exactly how it should have been. Because we don’t always know those moments when they come — but we’ll remember them forever. At least I got mine.