All Better

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When we say someone has healed, there’s an implied permanence, a sense that the sickness or injury is gone forever. Like “happily ever after,” healed is an impossible promise. And yet, we believe in healing. Healed is a word doctors won’t use with diseases like cancer that may return. For tentative restorations, there’s a different vernacular. We talk about remission, reduction. We fear false hope, being caught unawares.

But does impermanence negate recovery? My IBS symptoms wax and wane, and every once is a great while, they disappear. Yet even in symptom-free times, in my mind, my condition lingers. I don’t think of myself as well.

Unlike the relief I feel waking up after a lingering cold and finding that my head is clear and my breathing easy, with my stomach, feeling well is not enough.  I cannot shake the worry that I may get sick again. I do not simply enjoy being well. I get fixated on permanence.

It isn’t just in matters of physical health that fixedness matters. When it comes to loss, grief, or heartbreak we also speak of healing as if it is a single process, something that leads to a definitive moment when we are cured. But I’ve found that much like my IBS symptoms, my emotional discomforts increase and lessen, but are never wholly negated. I learn to deal with certain triggers, but the underlying tendencies find new outlets. Things improve for a while and then get difficult again.

Obsessed with patterns, I track these recurrences, their cyclical nature. Sometimes I feel that I have improved, matured, but this may be more a matter of stabilizing my environment than developing internally.

It’s the holiday season, a time of traditions and memories, when past and present blur. As adults, we return to our childhood homes. We return to our pasts, old symptoms, old habits, old feelings, return. My parent’s house evokes complex feelings. Sometimes I enjoy the familiar rooms, other times I find myself angry or forlorn. Uncertain of what to do, of how much freedom I am allowed, I lose confidence. I lose maturity, insight, autonomy. I feel old pain. Wounds that I thought had healed reopen.

Does this mean that I never healed, that my mettle is a matter of distance, that my poise is only a lie? If my answer is no, then I must rethink what healing is, to allow the possibility that to be wellness is always momentary, that a relapse of sickness does not negate the moments of health and comfort. Instead, it makes illness and wellness transitory states, both of which, will pass.

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