“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” – Susan Sontag
The first time I read this quote, I nearly cried. It was shortly after becoming ill with strange unidentified symptoms yet to be named. I was scared and I was confused and I was not yet to learn that my condition, which eventually got the name of sarcoidosis, was going to be a chronic problem that would change my life forever.
I had no idea what awaited me in that “other place” and I was not prepared to become one if its citizens. No one ever is.
But now I am.
I live in this other world every day at least part of the day. My passport in the “Kingdom of the sick” is well worn with many stamps…various doctor offices, the lab, hospital stays, surgeries, all the islands of aches and pains and, the mountainous region of complicated symptoms.
But this quote also says that we hold a “dual citizenship.” This is hopeful. For me this means that while I may be sick, I can still freely visit the “Kingdom of the well” and I do so as often as my body allows. I cherish these visits to my core. Sometimes these visits last an hour, sometimes they last days or weeks. But for how ever long I am allowed to use my “good passport”, the time there is well spent enjoying my life.
I am no longer afraid in the way that I was when I first received my passport to that “other place”. I know now what to expect and I have found hope in this “onerous place” because I have found a community of people who also suffer. And while it is unfortunate that any one of us should have to endure our trials, we can at least take comfort in one another’s strength.
“The Kingdom of the sick” has its challenges. I cannot deny this nor will I downplay it, yet despite whatever challenge awaits me in this “Kingdom”, I know I am not alone and others there, despite their own pain, cheer for me and encourage me and they amaze me with their ability to endure strains beyond my imagination and do it with absolute grace.
In some strange way, I am happier now with my “dual citizenship” than when I was living obliviously in the “Kingdom of the well.” What I mean by this is simple. What I mean is that I no longer have to fear the unknown and even though I face health challenges today that I did not have before my “dual citizenship”, I also know that I can survive living in that “other place” and it is not the end of the world.