April 1, 2012

I Didn't Like the Alternative

I've been combing the internet for a quote that captures a particular concept I have in my head.  In the process, I found several excellent expressions, such as this twist on a classic - "Courage is not the absence of fear, it's knowing that fear gets you nowhere" - and this definition - "Heroes are the people who do what has to be done regardless of the consequences".

William Faulkner pointed out that "man performs and engenders so much more than he can or should have to bear.  That is how he finds that he can bear anything", which is getting a little closer to my point.

Dancing around ideas related to the thought I'm trying to express, Josephine Hart warned us that "damaged people are dangerous.  They know they can survive," and John Updike wisely commented "we do survive every moment, after all, except the last one".

These are great motivational statements that serve to encourage us in the face of adversity and, sometimes, to remember humility is the great equalizer.  And yet, none of them quite hit my nail on the head.  None really say what I want to say; my persistent work with the 'Google machine' returned no perfect results.  So I guess I'm going to have to say it for myself.

I've noticed several other bloggers and activists discussing a topic familiar to us all, this is, how to answer a certain question we are asked by the "healthy" people around us.  This question comes wearing many disguises but ultimately - like the pierogie, ravioli, and potsticker - they are of like-substance:
How do you do it?
How do you have all that energy?
It's so great you can do everything you do (this thinly veiled statement-question can be particularly caustic to our nerves, by the way).
I don't know how you got through [insert medical disaster here].
I'm amazed at how you do all the things you do even with all your medical problems!
I wouldn't be able to do what you do.

I know these are (mostly) well-meaning, even complimentary statements.  Expressions of support and admiration from those honestly trying to be supportive.  But they drive me crazy.

I didn't do "it" (whatever it is) for you to admire.  I wasn't trying to impress.  I wasn't even trying to win some competition, or prove something to myself or anyone else.  To be honest, I would just as well have never done "it", but that would depend on never having needed to do "it".  The only alternative I could see, the other option besides doing "it", was to stop living.

I did it because I simply didn't like the alternative.

I don't know how I would survive many things others got through - living in concentration camps in WWII, or surviving weeks without food besides the occasional bug as they often must do in war-torn countries around the world.  But I do know how they did it.  They didn't like the alternative either.  Really, there was no alternative but to drop dead on the spot.  Maybe they'd end up dead from the experience anyway, but they had to try, and many people did survive.  There's even positive things I don't know how I could (or will) survive but I'm going to do them anyway, like having a baby (the actual birth part of it...blows my mind).  But I don't like the alternative - not having babies - so I'm just going to do it.  As have billions of women since time immemorial.
This is Noah, who had a heart transplant at 10yrs old.  I don't know how I'd survive needing a heart, getting it, or being the parent of a child need one...or donating it.  But I would, because the alternative isn't an option.  Image found here.

Maybe I am strong, as so many people like to tell me.  But if I am strong, it's not because of what I did, it's because of what I didn't do.  I didn't pretend there was another more attractive alternative which didn't really exist.  I know people who do this, and all it accomplishes is shuffling the responsibility while still leaving them worse off than they began.
Cartoon found here.
So if you're like me and so many of my friends, the next time someone asks you
"How did you do 'it'?"
you can tell them
"I didn't like the alternative."


  1. I can't stop gushing over this post. It's a familiar sentiment I keep re-visiting every time someone congratulates me for being strong. I know there are a small handful of responses that people can come up with when talking to someone juggling their health/illness, but I can't help but feel wonky and a bit uncomfortable when someone says it aloud.

    I guess the alternative to being a strong courageous epatient is the dark ominous elephant in the room called DEATH. Many "healthy" individuals don't realize that for us to stop advocating and being involved in our healthcare is to give up and walk the plank.

    Perhaps we need to share WHY we do it more often, so the message behind our effort is clear.

    Thank you for sharing these views Jenny. It's refreshing to know I'm not alone on many of these views. Stay strong!

    1. "Many "healthy" individuals don't realize that for us to stop advocating and being involved in our healthcare is to give up and walk the plank."

      Yep, that's it in a nut shell:) How do I do it? Well, I didn't want to drop dead...lol. Thanks, Hun!

  2. Wow. That was explained beautifully. It's like you took what I've been thinking for the last five years and translated it into the perfect words! I will definitely be using this in the future for those questions.

    May I share this on my blog?

    1. I hear you. It's taken me over a decade since diagnosis to put it into words. I wasn't even sure I got the words right, but the responses I'm getting from people like you are telling me the message is clear enough!

      You are always welcome to share things from my blog on yours, I just ask for a linkback:) Thanks!!

  3. Honestly, I never really thought about this but it makes perfect sense. Thank you.

    1. It's taken me a long time to find a way to express it - it's a hard one to wrap our minds around, I think. Glad you liked it:)

  4. I've heard those questions/statements myself. I agree, I really don't like the alternative which is why I'm determined to achieve what I can. Thank you for writing this x

    1. Beautiful post - I get so frustrated with this same thing. "I don't know how you do it, I could never do it..." But that's so true, it's because we have no choice, except to just give up and end the battle now! I'm going to say " I don't like the alternative" from now on. Thank-you for putting into words something that I feel so often. This blog is wonderful.

  5. It applies to a lot of things!


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