Stevie is back to ponder the illusion of control associated with grammatical possession of our illnesses. I don’t want to own my Cancer anymore. I’m hoping it was more of a borrowed time share condo in Cancun.
Me, Myself and My Illnesses
By Steve Safran
Those of us with anything interesting to suffer from use a particular possessive term to describe them: “My.” As in “my depression,” “my epilepsy,” “my cancer,” etc. I’m a word guy, and I find this choice interesting. We are claiming ownership over something we don’t want.
Why is it “my illness?” After all, saying “When I had the first heart attack” is structurally and grammatically sound. There is no need to amplify it by specifying, “When I had my first heart attack.” What other heart attack could you possibly be having? His? He’s not having one. Look at the shape he keeps himself in.
I’m not going to go on about how making it your own somehow makes you feel more in control of it. If I could make it “your anxiety,” chances are I would.
(Well, not you, per se. But “you” in the sense of “not me.” So, actually yes, you.)
Ownership is one of the first things a child learns — both to claim and to lie about. “That’s MY finger paint,” yes, but also “That’s NOT my mess over there, despite the use of MY finger paint.” Ownership usually implies pride, too. See: “That’s my new car” vs. “I drive a piece of crap.”
The possessive can be used as an admission of guilt, as in “My bad” or “My mistake.” (I have yet to hear “My good,” and our language is the better for it.)
None of which gets us any closer to understanding this peculiar propensity we have for claiming ownership over illness. It must be about control. And maybe it’s a little mental sleight-of-hand.
If we choose to make an illness ours, then it is our battle. We can beat it or succumb to it, but it’s in our hands. “My depression” means it’s not entirely up to the doctors and the drugs to fix me – the ultimate “repair” is my responsibility, too. There’s a handy bit of self-deception involved in this, of course. But who better to deceive than one’s self? We do it all the time, anyway. In my mind, I weigh less and am taller. I might as well be healthier as well. And I probably read Dostoyevsky.
It’s mine, you see. Mine to win, mine to lose, mine to fight, mine to throw pills at, to wallow in, to lament, to mock, to endure. I appreciate your help, doctor. You, after all, have the degree and the stethoscope and you know how to say “uvula” without giggling. But it’s mine. All mine.
Unless you want it. All yours.