But you’re so young.
I heard that exact phrase at least two dozen times over the last two weeks.
It wasn’t the first time I heard it. I’m sure as hell it won’t be the last. But hearing it over and over and over again day in and day out made me want to scream out loud. I didn’t, of course. I only screamed on the inside.
I know that the people saying it weren’t saying it to be negative, but they didn’t realize that every time I heard that phrase, it was like a tiny jab to my already damaged heart. I know I’m young. You don’t need to remind me. I know I’m sick. You really don’t need to remind me.
I can’t blame them, though. I’m 31 years-old with a disease that affects the elderly. They see my COPD diagnosis and they don’t understand it. And then they want to ask questions. How much did you smoke? How long were you a smoker? I can never seem to tell them I only started smoking after I got sick. I can never explain to them how I grew up and lived in a (literal) toxic environment, how I spent most of the last 17 years in and out of hospitals. It wasn’t just the cigarettes that gave me COPD. It was my life.
It’s hard for many people to realize just how much trauma affects the body. I see it all the time. I’ve never met a person with PTSD who wasn’t struggling with at least one type of physical problem. The effects of trauma aren’t just on the mind.
My body started giving up long ago. It wasn’t just about the broken bones, the bruises, the damage it withstood on a regular basis. Every last bit of energy is spent trying to survive. After awhile, the body can’t fight anymore. There’s no way to win the war. So things break down in ways they shouldn’t, way earlier than they should. Broken mind, broken body.
But most people don’t understand the connection. They don’t want to hear about the trauma, about the battle you endured that brought you to this point. They want hard facts spoken in brevity.
I don’t bother with facts. I don’t bother with the truth. Just bad luck, I guess. That’s what I tell them. As if luck has been the one and only cause of my destruction. Luck took away the cartilage in my knee. Luck caused me to get COPD. And now luck has led me to a heart problem that has yet to be solved.
Fuck luck. Fuck genetics. I want people to realize the connection to trauma. I want them to stop telling me I’m so young, and start asking how I really ended up here. I want somebody to stand up and realize that I am breaking, not because of luck, not because of genetics, and not all because of my own doing. There was and is something more here.
I want to be able to tell them the truth. My heart is weak because it’s tired. Thirty one years of my life has been constant stress and fear. I’m surprised it still beats at all, to be honest. Why hasn’t it given up on me yet? Why does it try to quit and then get knocked back into beating?
And just when I thought it was over, the appointment was done, the surgery was done, the questions were done — it happened again.
The manager of cardiac unit called me the following day to check and see how I was doing post-surgery. I told her everything was okay (except for some mild pain), and then there was an awkward silence. Then I heard her again. Do you mind if I ask? You’re so young, why did you have this done? We’ve only ever had to do this with older patients.
I really wanted to say wait, you mean not every 30-something has a heart monitor implanted into their chest? Instead I told her the basic passed out a few times, they found an arrhythmia, completely downplaying the fact that I passed out way more than a few times and I had a collection of issues that included more than just an arrhythmia.
She’s right. All these people are right. I am too goddamn young to be dealing with this shit.
But I am dealing. I am living life as if nothing is wrong. Because that’s how I learned to live.
And that’s what got me here.