Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Little Mermaid, possibly the most powerless of all fairy tale heroines. She isn’t vulnerable because she is weak or passive but because the world around her acts in ways she doesn’t expect.
I’ve been struggling with my IBS, had a terrible flare up despite my best attempts at self-care. I’m feeling better today, and I’m grateful, but I worry about when the next attack will come. When I’m sick I struggle to write, to read, to talk about anything else. I become completely absorbed with my own body, my own discomfort. I become irritable and prone to tears. I wonder if I’ll always have these symptoms, and I search obsessively for some diet or supplement I haven’t already tried to ease my discomfort.
I think about the Mermaid, how despite her beauty and faithfulness, she ends up alone because she can’t explain who she is. Nothing she does can bring back her voice, which she gave up because it provided an opportunity, because she does what she knows is right for her. Even though everything goes wrong, I still feel she made the right choice, that she would have been miserable if she hadn’t tried.
I tell myself this because my own illness seems to be the result of a decision, the choice to quit smoking, a choice I made for my health. But I don’t feel healthy. My body doesn’t work as it should. Try as I may, I find over and over that I am powerless, that I cannot prevent my symptoms. I berate myself for all the years I spend smoking, and feel that the damage I’ve done is irreparable. Surely the mermaid, looking back, could blame herself for ignoring her father’s good advice, can see her behavior as reckless. But I understand why she didn’t. I forgive her rebelliousness, her daring, her curiosity, and try to see my own youthful poor judgement sympathetically.