Once I realized that there was no getting rid of it ever, that it had already buried itself into my genes, I simply owned it, grew to believe I was not at war with it, because that would mean being at war with a part of myself, and saw it as simply a part of my body that needed to be managed, like nails, or skin, or muscle. The way to manage my virus was to keep it close to non-existent through anti-retrovirals and then to embrace what was left of it.
I learned to love my virus.
And as I did, I became less afraid of it. And I believe that lack of fear and sometimes over-dedication to my work helped me survive it, or, rather, survive with it. I think this is wiser than some modern conceptions of our bodies as somehow alien to illness rather than as part of the web of virology and bacteria and life that exists on this planet. So you tend to your illness as part of your body rather than seeing it as an invader to be conquered. I don't mean some new agey idea that modern medicine is irrelevant. Au contraire. HIV kills you if left untreated and aggressive medicine is vital. I mean a psychological resistance to the war metaphor, an ownership of your own cells, and the spiritual calm that accepts our physical embeddedness and is often the reward of a close call with mortality. The calm fades so easily so often. But without it, we die.
I love this idea of illness as part of our bodies we must tend, rather than as an invader we fight. So Enbrel isn’t a weapon; it’s a tool, like my hairbrush and my toothbrush and my elliptical. When I read this, I realized I long ago stopped seeing my arthritis as foreign. I suppose it helps that I don't remember a time when I didn't have it. But when my elbow is puffy and sore or my wrist hurts so much I can't close my fingers around the handle of my teacup, I don't just think, "poor me," or "poor wrist." I think, strange as it sounds, "poor arthritis. I should take care of it."
I don't really perceive it as attacking me. I see it living with me and in me. Sometimes it needs a hot bath or a nap, sometimes an extra NSAID to get it through the afternoon. It likes Enbrel and really hates getting out of bed in the morning. Sometimes it demands a lot of me; at other times, we exist together in an uneasy peace. It's become, over the years, as much a part of me as my sense of humour, my (towering) inner nerd, my total inability to endure noisy eating.
It's just there, in my cells, and as Sullivan says, I own them.