One of my friends recently posted on Facebook: “i wish time machines existed so that everyone who ~wishes they were born in a different era~ could live their dream and id never have to hear that bs again.” (Shout-out to A! Hey girl!)
When I finally stopped laughing, I realized that it’s funny because it’s true– people say that all the time.
“I just saw the Great Gatsby. All that glamour, all that champagne! I wish I lived in the 20s.”
“I can’t get over the dresses of the 1950s. And the hair! I was totally born in the wrong decade.”
And of course, my personal favorite:
“Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book. I wish I were Elizabeth Bennet.”
Ok, ok, I’m not going to pretend that I have not also hoped that a closet in my bathroom would turn into a magical portal that transports me to the Bennets’ attic so that I could switch places with the real Lizzy and have the real Mr. Darcy recreate the Colin Firth A&E version Darcy-coming-out-of-the-pond-scene. (Lost in Austen, anyone? If not, Netflix it, now!)
Because I have.
However, then I think for a minute about the very real possibilities of what it would mean to be a Chronic in 18-whatever and that gives me pause.
I started my chronic life as a Fainting Lady at age 14, roughly Lydia Bennet age. Swooning was not an uncommon lady-trait at the time, should we believe the hype. So I probably would have fit in, at least for a little while. Eventually, I’m sure everyone would come to gossip about my “theatrics” and think I was making it up for attention, not unlike how some Chronics are treated in the here and now.
But perhaps my constant state of dis-ease would afford me holidays to one of those “health retreats”- you know, the ones in the country, usually with some sort of water cure or healing vapors. That could be a fun field trip, right? Or maybe not because a week in a carriage to get anywhere might not be all that great- and I thought sitting in car traffic when symptomatic was bad!
As for recreation, I’m good at crafty stuff, so I would do ok with needlepoint and painting, perhaps with some pianoforte lessons on the side. I happen to have a good ear for French. That whole walking-everywhere thing might get old, or be helpful-who knows? I don’t know that it would be such a good idea for me to ride a horse, but I’m not sure how socially acceptable horseback riding was for ladies then, so I might be in the clear.
I figure that my unusual paleness would be a boon to my husband-finding endeavors, as porcelain ladies always seem to get the most attention. Plus, my parents would be making the match, so I wouldn’t have to bother with that whole dating thing. Which might be nice; dating is, well, dating.
The fact that nearly everyone died either from childbirth, fever, or a random outbreak of something awful would mean that if I happened to kick the bucket a bit pre-maturely due to lack of body functionality, at least I’d be in good company. In addition to missing such modern marvels as beta-blockers and IV saline, I’d probably miss indoor plumbing the most. People were only just wising up to this revolutionary idea in the 1800s. Jane Austen had too delicate a sensibility to mention Lizzy Bennet’s bathroom breaks in Pride and Prejudice, and you know A&E didn’t want to ruin the magic by adding in the basic facts of life. I happen to really enjoy my indoor water closet and wouldn’t want to part with it.
All of the above is assuming that I were of privileged class. If I weren’t? Well forget it. I’d probably starve to death because no one needs a fragile, fainty scullery maid.
It’s funny to me that as time has marched steadily on, with new technologies and medical discoveries occurring, that things have gotten a touch worse for Chronics in a social sense, not better.
Like, if we time machine-traveled to switch places with Lizzy Bennet, our Chronic conditions could probably be masked pretty well behind the fact that nearly everyone had some sort of chronic condition that was yet untreatable. So you faint a lot- your new husband has gout and can barely move! It’s totally ok that the two of you don’t get out much! Once a year you throw a party to remind everyone you’re still alive, or if you can’t manage that, a short and sweet note to your sister every now and again would do the trick.
But once you get to the 1920s, people start realizing there’s something called “crazy” (thanks a lot, Freud) that’s not as charming as “eccentric” and suddenly we’re all Zelda Fitzgeralds, involuntarily committed to the asylum by our “well-meaning” husbands. (Ok, I know, Zelly dear probably had some real issues that needed to be addressed. But not any more than ole F. Scott did.)
This continues so far into the 20th century it’s laughable. It’s a simple fact that most chronic illnesses affect women at much higher rates than men. The prevailing idea seems to be that 1) Men don’t get sick and 2) Women make themselves sick in the body by being sick in the head. Case in point: the word “hysteria”, which means “a fit of madness, frenzy, or uncontrollable emotion,” comes from the Greek word “hystera,” which means uterus. Ergo, having a uterus makes you prone to fits of madness.
I really wonder sometimes if Hippocrates & Co. were just sitting there, wondering about the facts of life in ancient Greece, and someone said “A uterus houses new life- I wonder what other dark powers it possesses?” And then they all had a good laugh while they made a bunch of stuff up.
The DSM didn’t even bother to remove “hysterical neurosis” (if we’re using our classical translations, this means a “nervous condition” brought about by the uterus) until 1980.
It’s taken a long time for the medical community to wrap its head around the Autonomic Nervous System in the first place. I cannot imagine what they would think of me walking around talking about how mine is broken, 30, 50, 75, or 100 years ago.
I would not have been a particularly happy camper in say, the “idyllic” 1950s. Waiting to find a husband until I was 18 would put me in the height of my personal illness debacle, and while my high school boyfriend might have married me, I probably would have instead succumbed to Old Maid-dom (because there really wasn’t a choice spectrum pre-feminist movement). Which means my sister would have a live-in, though not altogether helpful, babysitter living in her basement.
Or, you know, I’d be the prettiest gal at the Funny Farm, blathering on about my broken nerves.
This is not what people think of when they giddily express longing for by-gone eras. Why should they? Hollywood has done an excellent job making the past look like so much fun. In truth, people want to live in a historical, fictionalized, cinematic piece, preferably of the BBC America Sunday Night Special-variety. PBS is pretty, but it’s reproduction, not reality. (Because can you imagine how painfully boring Real Housewives of Downton Abbey would be? Wait- bad example. That would probably be fantastic.)
I’m perfectly content to live right now. Right now, I have access to medication, hygiene standards, and the Internet. Which happily means that I can order myself a flapper costume for Halloween, some estate jewelry from Etsy, and a vintage reproduction wardrobe that would incur the jealousy of Zooey Deschanel from ModCloth.
I can have all the best bits of Eras Past and my penicillin too! Thanks a bundle 21st century!
If you could time travel or wake up in another decade, which would you choose? Have you ever thought about what it would really be like? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments below or on my facebook page http://www.facebook.com/iamchronicallywell.