Day 6 – Write about a time you had to take the high road
I sometimes wonder at the irony of Sjogren’s syndrome, which often makes it hard to shed a tear, much less cry me a river. Whenever I cry now, I rub the tears into my eyes and the dry skin of my cheeks, and marvel at how much like artificial tears they feel. Oh, it’s supposed to be the other way around, isn’t it?
Today’s prompt is about taking the high road. The high road means acting with integrity and doing the right thing. This puzzles me somewhat as these are the principles I’ve tried to live by all my life. I didn’t naturally think about lying – something that got me in tremendous trouble whenever my mother wanted to find out what my siblings were up to! I’d just respond. I never made a conscious effort to do the wrong thing either. My high school motto was “Do the Right Thing”, and my very serious 13 year-old self thought that was a fine motto.
However, in my journey, I’ve never felt that doctors took the high road. It seemed they often took the quick and easy road compared to the one I was travelling: the “growing pains” road, the “tests are in the normal range” road, and the “I can’t see it, so I don’t believe you’re experiencing it,” road.
Taking the high road I presume would be forgiving them this behaviour: forgiving and moving on, secure in my truth. The truth is I was never secure in my truth. I didn’t know what was normal. I always seemed at such odds with the world. At times I didn’t know if I was sane or not. I couldn’t see the source of my own pain, so I’d start doubting and denying the reality of even its most crippling expression.
I believe the phrase that best describes this disconnect is cognitive dissonance. It’s much like the oncologist who told me I was fortunate to only have lobular carcinoma in situ, and then go on to strongly recommend a double mastectomy. Be damned if I wasn’t going to be killed by the contradiction itself!
My problem with talking about a high road is I felt it wasn’t taken by those who were meant to provide health ‘care’. Many examples come to mind. The GP who decided my abdominal pain was all in my head and handed me over to psychiatry. The psychiatrist who decided I wasn’t trying to get better, even though I was physically exhausted by those first years of balancing work, relationships, activities, home and healing. The Sister on the psych ward who goaded me about not having enough time to go to the funerals of all the people who died in her ward. The rheumatologist who told me my diagnosis was wrong and I wasn’t sick because he was too lazy to request my reports from my old doctor. The oncologist who told me I was too young to be sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.
Whenever confronted by these denials of my experience, my first desire was to cry. I’d try to hide those tears: to push down what felt like accusations of deception and laziness and passively absorb it. Sometimes that led to self-harm, as my own distorted way of regaining self-mastery. Most of the time, I managed to fight off the tears until I could get away. I’d escape and swear I’d never go to a doctor again – not until my body betrayed me and I’d have to return.
I get the feeling we are walking on two different high roads, and the problem is the doctor’s road never crosses the patient’s road. We are trying to communicate across a great divide. I’ve been told many times that the best doctors are often short in the compassion department. I was diagnosed by one of the best rheumatologists on the west coast, but the only way he knew me was by consulting his records. The five minutes spent in his office every year or so wasn’t enough to know me as a person.
The question I pose to both the doctors and me is this: do we want to walk that same high road? Do they want healing for me, or after all these years, do they still believe my pain a sham, despite the evidence gradually yielded up by my body? And perhaps even more, can I find in myself the grace and strength to forgive all those hurts, to trust once again and seek an answer? Like so many times before, can I risk it again for a nebulous promise of help?
If I must have a measure of pain all my days, then perhaps the high road is acceptance. Perhaps then, it wouldn’t bother me that the chasm is so wide. Perhaps then, we could meet and talk.