Before I got sick, I was never bored, never lonely, never depressed. I had sadness, of course, moments of anxiety, too. Everyone goes through these things because they fall within the normal spectrum of human emotions.
But I’m sick now, and I’m depressed, and I don’t know why.
Is it because the lesions from my Multiple Sclerosis have affected parts of my brain that affect my emotions? Is it because the nerves that go haywire with this disease are sending the wrong signals? Is it because I’m 40 years old and my periods are getting shorter and I’m approaching menopause and my hormones are all fucked up?
Is it because I had to leave the only place I’ve ever lived that made me happy in favor of a Republican-controlled swamp that makes me sick with toxic green algae every summer? Is it because my dream of grad school was a nightmare? Is it because I read an article once ten years ago that said fat people don’t have the discipline to get a PhD, and I didn’t get a PhD, and now I think they’re right? Is it because I know what really happened is that a disease I couldn’t have prevented stole my whole life from me? Is it because I’m poor and live off Social Security so even though I have nothing but free time I can’t do anything fun? Is it because even if I could afford it, this disease exhausts me so much that I feel like I want to fucking die after a simple trip to the grocery store?
Or is it because everywhere I’ve ever been, I’ve felt like a fucking fraud? I felt like a fraud when I got my full scholarship at Portland State. Sure, I was getting straight A’s, but didn’t they know I wasn’t trying nearly as hard as I could have been? I felt like a fraud when I got accepted into the University of Miami with full funding into their MA/PhD program. I had good GRE scores, I’m sure great letters of recommendation, and a near perfect GPA, but didn’t know I was going to an easy state school and that my math scores were flimsy? Didn’t they notice the typo in the first fucking sentence of my Letter of Intent?
Oh yes, once I got there, once they looked at me and my fat ass, my cheap clothes, and they could sense that I didn’t belong, they realized. The first people in my life to realize I was a fraud, and they told me all the time. I got sicker and sicker and they made sure to tell me I was lazy.
Let me tell you, there’s nothing in the world more painful than hearing people you want to impress tell you all your worst insecurities about yourself are true.
So when I was falling apart, when MRIs and a lumbar puncture said I had MS, when my doctor told me that my description of my experience said it sounded like the progressive disease, I still felt like a fraud.
I still do. Years later. How did I get on Social Security? I hear horror stories from people who seem so much sicker than me and more deserving who haven’t gotten it. Was it because I’m so fucking sneaky and shady? But all I did was apply, I don’t understand! Don’t these people see what a fraud I am? How did I convince all these doctors? How did I convince the government? Sometimes I want to call my doctor, once of the best MS specialists in the state of Florida, and say, “Do I really have MS? Are you sure?” As if he’s injecting me with chemo medicine every month for no reason.
I feel my mind slipping away, I know I can’t read a long book anymore, I don’t have the focus. I fall apart at any exertion. My brain scans have come back clean this last time, when I was feeling worse, sicker than ever. Migraines every day for months. Wanting a reason for all this fucking pain that made any fucking sense and getting none. Maybe I’m just a fraud.
I forget things all the time, so many things. I forget treasured memories. I’m not nearly as smart as I used to be, but everyone tells me I’m still so smart, and I know they mean well, I know they’re trying to tell me I’m not losing my mind, but all I hear when they say those things is, “You’re a fraud, you know? You’re a fucking fraud. I won’t validate your reality. Except for the one that tells you what a goddamn fraud you are. You’re not sick. You’re just lazy. You can fix yourself. You’re still smart.”
Someday, I’ll be on my deathbed, probably unable to walk, maybe on a ventilator, probably having someone pull the fucking plug, and I’ll be thinking to myself,
“You could get better. You’re a fraud. You’re taking the easy way out.”
But I’ll do it anyway. Because a fraud is all I’ll ever be.