In a few weeks, Demetri and I are going to Italy. We’re meeting our best friends in Florence and none of us are bringing our darling and precious children. (Maybe next time.). The trip was my idea and I imagined strolling through museums and churches, meandering through the markets, hiking through Cinque Terre, puttering around Tuscany stopping frequently for gelato. Also, pasta. Lots and lots of pasta.
When people find out we’re going to Italy, their faces light up and they say, “Italy! You will love it!” or “Italy! You’ll have the best trip ever!” I smile and say I’m a little nervous. But apparently one is not allowed to be nervous about Italy. Because then these people screech, “BUT IT’S ITALY! YOU CAN’T BE NERVOUS!” or even just “BUT IT’S ITALY! (pause for frantic gesturing) IT-AH-LEE!!!” They throw their hands in the air like they can’t believe that someone may be nervous to fly across the atlantic to a country she’s never been to before. BECAUSE IT’S ITALY. And, because, I suspect most of these people are well. Almost all of the time they are well. They have the certainty and fearlessness that comes from health.
I hope that what these people say is true — I will love it and it will be amazing. BECAUSE IT’S ITALY. But inside, I’m more than nervous. I’m scared. I’m scared of the long plane ride and what it’s going to do to my body. I’m scared of the time change and how it will affect my pain and fatigue. I’m scared because I can’t walk very far — about four blocks total for the day before my feet start to throb and I can’t touch them to the floor. I’m scared because that is what chronic illness has taught me to be.
Chronic illness can snatch things away from us at any time. Our health. Our mobility. Our time. Our relationships. And it’s so, so scary. There’s a lot of uncertainty. I’m scared of not being well enough. And energetic enough. And I’m terrified of wasting this trip because I just can’t do enough or see enough. (Although I’m pretty sure I will eat enough.) I’m scared because it’s not going to be the experience I planned out so carefully.
For the past six months, I’ve been working at coming to terms with my unwellness. I’ve been learning how to feel worthwhile and how to find joy within the constantly shifting limitations of chronic illness. I’ve been learning how to be gentle with myself. And, ohmygod, you guys, it’s been so hard. But I’m doing it. And I will do it for this trip, too.
So, I’m throwing up my hands to chronic illness and yelling: This is not what I imagined, BUT IT’S ITALY! I’ll be sitting in a cafe or on a bench in the sun. Gelato will be nearby. And maybe some hot, Italian men. I will sit with my husband and my best friends over long, delicious meals. We will eat too much and talk too much. I will sit on our patio overlooking the ocean and wave goodbye to the people I love in the street below as they set off for a hike through the hills. I will take joy from their joyful stories of adventure. I will nap on the roof deck. While my friends are gone, I will go get pastries. And when my friends return, I will pretend that I haven’t had any pastries at all so we can go out and get more together. I will read and people watch. And write in my notebook. I will soak up the scenery until my whole body is saturated. I will sit on the patio of a Tuscan villa and feel peaceful and loved. There will be tears of gratefulness and amazement for this moment. And this one. Until all the small and perfect moments pile up and I am bursting with enough-ness. BECAUSE IT’S ITALY. And I was courageous enough and lucky enough to go.
What are you facing that might not be what you imagined? How are you dealing with it?