Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the subject of choice. As per usual, when I’m thinking intensely about something, it seems to pop up everywhere I look as I sort through the issue, trying to examine it from every angle.
Thanks to the fact that currently I am going to Toronto General Hospital’s Transplant Day Unit five days a week for six hour infusions, I have a lot of time on my hands to watch tv. Monday found me going through CTV’s line up, and I came across an episode of Criminal Minds entitled “The Thirteenth Step.” In it, a married couple consisting of a psychopath and sociopath react to their abusive childhoods by going on a killing spree. Both are alcoholics and are working the twelve step program Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is known for, but instead of using step nine to make amends to other people, they try to force their abusers to make amends to them.
During the episode one of the killers attends an AA meeting and is told that even though horrific things have happened to him in the past, he needs to take responsibility for his life now and not let it control his life any further. Unfortunately he disagrees and a bloodbath ensues, but I was left wondering: Do past negative experiences beyond your control give you a pass to make poor and/or passive choices for the rest of your life?
By Tuesday, I was tired of tv and decided to go for a higher form of distraction with books. The Toronto Public Library has a program called OverDrive where you can download audio books to listen to on your computer or mp3 device. Ever the young adult book enthusiast, I downloaded Identical by Ellen Hopkins, a writer known for writing books that look more like doorstops than novels thanks to their incredible length. The audio version was just under nine hours and, amazingly or sadly, I finished it in one day. Identical twins Raeanne and Kaeleigh share a terrible secret: their father, a victim of abuse himself, has been abusing them since they were children. Their mother knew about the abuse but ignored it, and their grandmother suspected the abuse but believed her son’s threats that no one would believe her.
The girls’ father is a prime example of the premise the episode of Criminal Minds presents: that because he himself has been abused, he is not responsible for the choice to abuse his own children. In turn, Raeanne is not responsible for her drug use, anorexia, and promiscuity and Kaeleigh is not responsible for her binge eating and suicide attempt. Unlike Criminal Minds, however, Identical explores the issue further as Kaeleigh eventually realises with help she can make better, healthier choices for herself despite what has happened to her, including the conscious choice to make the cycle of abuse end with her.
Wednesday came and this time I chose a six hour book I’d never heard of before called If I Stay by Gayle Forman. Mia is a seventeen year-old whose life is ripped apart when her family gets in a car accident that kills both her parents and her young brother. Precariously close to death after the accident, Mia finds herself separated from her body and able to hear and see the reactions of her boyfriend, extended family and friends to the tragedy. She overhears a nurse tell her grandparents that it is Mia’s choice to stay alive or to let go and takes it to heart, seriously considering whether life is worth living after all of her immediate family has died.
In the face of such grief and sorrow, it was easy for me to empathise with Mia’s initial indecision and then decision to let go, but I was disappointed and angry with her for giving up without a fight. Apparently Forman also couldn’t live with that ending, because in a masterful turn she restores hope to Mia through her boyfriend Adam. Mia comes to realise that her journey is going to be indescribably difficult, but the potential of the future is worth living for.
Thia week I’ve been laid low emotionally and physically. I’ve been dealing with CMV (cytomegalovirus) for nine months now, and truthfully, at times I wonder if the heart transplant was worth it. My hope has been subtly slipping away leaving me uncharacteristically unable to see past my current battle to the potential of a future without constant hospital visits and noxious drugs. Why do I keep fighting when every time I finish one battle another one seems to begin? Will there ever be a time when I choose to cut my losses and call it a day?
I can’t answer that, because sometimes the idea of eventually giving up the fight is what keeps me going. What I liked about If I Stay is that it acknowledges that life itself can be a choice. Friday night I was looking for photos of myself to feature in a talk I was giving to Heartlinks, a group for heart transplant recipients based out of Toronto General Hospital. As I sorted through snapshots of birthdays, Christmases, gatherings with friends and family, the early childhood of my niece, the graduation of my best friend, the engagement party of my other great friends, I realised that all of those events were what I had been fighting for since the very beginning.
For me it isn’t cut and dried. There is no one ultimate battle that will save my life and restore me to health and vitality. I live with a chronic illness, and living with a chronic illness for me means sometimes the battles are big and scary and sometimes they involve getting through a simple day. But the numerous photos prove to me that I am a warrior with many more wins than losses.
If I stay…, if I stay fighting, if I stay hopeful, then I can make it through this battle too.