Thursday, 12 November 2015


You shut your mouth. How can you say I go about things the wrong way. I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does
How Soon Is Now? - The Smiths


I am minding my own business when facebook offers me:

15 Tips For Living With A Chronic Illness Like Multiple Myeloma

I scan it idly (you don't need to) until I reach #4:

"This illness is in your life to teach you something. There is a reason you are here. There is something that this experience can teach you that you apparently need to learn."

Stop the tape. Quick trip to foot of stairs. Channel my inner Tim Minchin:
"Wow. That's a good point. Let me think for a bit. Oh wait, my mistake, that's absolute bullshit." *

It's the same as when people say (and believe me, they do) that getting ill is all part of "God's plan". What kind of God, and what kind of plan, exactly, that might leave my children fatherless? And just what is it, in which I was so deficient, that I needed myeloma, in order to learn?

When someone gets knocked down and killed, is that "God's plan"? When someone is born into abject poverty, is that "God's plan"? If you smoke 30 a day and live to 110, is that "God's plan", or is it because you were so wise and wonderful you really had nothing you needed to learn through adversity? I'm guessing its easier to see these plans of God's from the vantage point of affluent good health.

Or... "God only gives you what you can handle". ** Ah, so it's my fortitude that is to blame. Other people think "I don't think I could bear it, if I had cancer". But that's OK, because if they can't handle it, they won't get it, right?

No it doesn't.
My beef here is not with God (we're on quite good terms right now, I think), but with the stupid, egotistical ways people frame illness. Really, these kind of sentiments are the self centred indulgences of the healthy and inconsiderate.

Yes; I've learnt a lot since I got mm. In some peculiar ways, the experience has added to me. But that does not justify it, or legitimise it. It doesn't explain why it happened to me. Yes; I have found amazing reserves of strength over the last few years. But that was because I had to, not because I was any better prepared for this than anyone else would be.

I cannot convey, strongly enough, how much I hate this kind of comment: this thoughtless narcissism that permits people to believe that the difference between us - the sick and the healthy - is of some significance; that there's a reason I'm ill, and by implication, a reason they're not.


* If you've never heard Tim Minchin's "Storm", I cannot recommend it highly enough. (Some strong language.)

** "God only gives you..." comes, indirectly, from 1 Corinthians 10:13, where Paul is talking about temptation: specifically idolatory. But people glibly change the context.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. I could not have expressed these sentiments any better. My family is awash in "chronic illnesses. In addition to my MM, both of my adult children have Crohn's disease/ulcerative colitis, (one of each.) One became ill at 7. What did she need to learn about life that Crohn's disease could teach her? Boggles the mind when people say that ANY illness is some kind of bonus. Just stupid.

Terrij said...

My feelings exactly. Our daughter was diagnosed at 32 in 2012. She passed away on Oct.12 recently. I see no good reason for this happening to her. I do not want to believe in a God who uses his children in suffering to teach others a lesson. As you said it makes it appear that the ill are being punished for something they have done.

Alex Bicknell said...

Terri. Oh shit. I'm so shocked to read that. I never know what to say or do, at this moment, apart from hold open my arms to you. The myeloma community is a peculiar thing, existing as it does mostly online. So many people I've never met, yet feel deeply connected to. I didn't appreciate how aggressive your daughter's myeloma has been. I can only imagine how tough it has been for her and is for you, right now. I'm thinking of you. There is no good reason; I'm certain of that, if little else. And none of us is being punished - your daughter, me or you - we are just playing the hand that has been dealt us.

Alex Bicknell said...

The sheer absurdity of the concept becomes undeniable when applied to a child. But it's a pervasive though none the less - when I googled for an"everything happens for a reason" image, there were thousands of them.