When life really SUX

IMAGINE, for a moment, that you suffer from Socially Unacceptable Illness X (to keep things simple, let’s call it SUX*).

The first, tell-tale signs appear when you’re just a little tacker. If you showed symptoms of meningitis or a skate-boarding skull bust, the large people in your life would rush you straight to a doctor.

But this is SUX so everyone ignores your symptoms in the hope they’ll just go away.

They don’t.

You suffer your first, full-blown bout of SUX in your teens. While your peers are spinning bottles at each other at pash parties, you’re so desperately ill you can barely move from your bed.

SUX very nearly takes your life that year, yet no one, especially not you, can bring themselves to call it by name.

SUX comes and goes all through your adult life. Sometimes it’s just an inconvenience. Other times well you’d rather not go into details. Let’s just say you’re lucky to have lived to avoid telling the tale.

You do your best to impersonate a well person, but, after years of running rampant and untreated, SUX eventually strikes worse than before and you crash and burn.

Those weeks in the hospital are nightmarish, like David Lynch’s Eraserhead to the power of Twin Peaks. And the staff, oh God, the staff. Some are sisters of mercy like Leonard Cohen promised, but others are sadistic Ratcheds who make you queue for medication you don’t want, and speak to you like you’re still in nappies.
Having to accept you’re ill enough to be here is the pits, but at least you finally start taking your sickness seriously.

It takes eons to find a medication that works. Most anti-SUXants make things worse because they kill sex, steal your short-term memory or make you feel like Lucy in the sky with diamonds when you’re trying to hold a steering wheel steady.

Finding a SUX specialist for treatment is just as hard. But eventually — after rejecting patronising idiot after patronising idiot — you find someone who doesn’t make you feel like less of a man or a typically weak woman because you’re unlucky enough to sometimes be sick.

These days, you’re doing pretty well. You know the warning signs of SUX’s onset and don’t get all One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest about taking your medication when you need to.

You laugh, though, when doctors suggest you view SUX like diabetes or any other illness that requires treatment and careful management. Because having SUX isn’t like having diabetes at all.

When diabetics reveal their condition at parties, other guests don’t back slowly away before feigning a sudden obsession with the guacamole. Friends don’t say “just snap out of it” or “it’s all in your head”.

You wish you could tell the avocado freaks that it’s not your fault: that 40 per cent of SUX cases are genetic and no one knows about the other 60 per cent, so it’s not like you could have used a franger or given up smoking to ensure you stayed SUX-free.

You wish they realised the superhuman strength it takes to act like nothing’s wrong at work when you’re in the dark depths of an attack, or when you’re going on or off a drug and are dizzy and cotton-mouthed and vague as hell.

You wish you could explain how much you hate it when celebrities die of SUX and the media uses coy codings such as “no suspicious circumstances” when it is suspicious; it’s incredibly suspicious that, in this day and age, so many people are still dying from a treatable illness.

You wish, just once, someone would send a sympathy card or get-well-soon balloon.

But you’re not stupid. Like genital herpes and infected nipple piercings, you know that much of the world assumes this is something you bring on yourself.

You know that — until more SUX-free citizens try to understand things from your perspective — using words such as depression in polite company will only bring more grief.

* For more information about a whole bunch of SUXes that continue to thrive on shame, secrecy and stigma, go to blackdoginstitute.org.au or beyondblue.org.au. If it’s an emergency, call Lifeline on 131 114.

- originally published in The Australian on 04-09-2008.

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One Comment on "When life really SUX"

  1. Emma
    05/09/2011 at 6:20 pm Permalink

    G’day Emma,
    Thank you for your recent piece on the blackdog. I dropped by to see if I could find a copy to send to a friend because I lost the clipping. Your story, and Andrew Robb’s, are inspiring. The “coming out” thing is important for those who can. It’s sad that people who suffer the condition stigmatise themselves more than any. That is the nature of the dog.
    I loved your article here on the reasons for name change. I had kinda guessed it. No one changes their name from “Tom” to “Jane” for marriage reasons or if they did it would be most unfortunate.
    The habit of women retaining their names began at about the same time as the Murphy Family Law Act. It could have been predicted then that was the end of naming customs. No big deal.


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