Friday, 25 October 2013

Petunia (AKA Why I talk about my illness as if she's a person)

The title says it all. I had a message asking the question of why my illness has a name as if she’s a person. Aside from certain aspersions cast about how sane I am (who knew sense of humour was a way to measure sanity?) the question didn't surprise me – I thought somebody would eventually ask who the hell I was talking about.

Petunia started as a joke about eighteen months ago in the time of my having hit the IBS Wall and venting my frustration with the same. I described the way my digestive system behaved as like having a stroppy teenager living in there who’s perpetually feeling like nobody understands her and hates her parents – incidentally, exactly the kind of teenager I never was. My friend suggested the teenager should have a name, and settled on Petunia because it’s a vile name (given to some truly not vile people I am sure) and it had some real connotations of first-world-problem sort of complaints.

Oh you don’t like me eating anything at all despite it being a completely necessary function? Poor little lamb, my heart positively bleeds.

As is often the case with good jokes (and bad ones), it stuck.

Originally it was just something which made me (and others) laugh and anything that can do so is helpful, because if I’m completely honest there isn’t much to laugh about with the cold reality of the fact your body is attacking itself for no real reason.

However, whilst it became force of habit to refer to my conditions with the name it also made it something separate from me. There was the person I’d always been, and then there was the interloper I grudgingly shared space with – and when you’re pretty small like me there’s not a lot of space and so consequently there is a lot of grumbling.

She’s also a wonderful release for the part of my personality I keep very much in check the vast majority of the time. I don’t like to upset people, and so I very rarely call anyone names or make unkind comments – I’m human, so I have done so and will again – but all the same I try not to, and if one does spring to the tip of my tongue I’ll always attempt to think about why I think that way. Self examination is a cruel mistress and I can understand why so many people avoid it, but I can’t. The downside of this is that a certain amount of pent up frustration, whether it be with people or anything else  just never quite gets free.

Enter my unwanted lodger – now I have every reason in the world to call her names and absolutely nobody to answer to for doing so. She deserves it.

(A petunia - suitably coloured for Fibro!)

There’s a danger with long term and incurable ill health that you start to attack yourself in your frustration, and view yourself and your body in an entirely negative light because of its sudden “betrayal”. I’m not for an instant going to invalidate those feelings – I understand them. There is something which feels horribly treasonous about a body which worked well for twenty one years suddenly throwing in the towel and deciding it can’t be bothered to do so any more.

However, it’s a potentially harmful cycle to fall into. All that negativity leads to stress and anger, neither of which are conducive to you feeling better. They also tend to contribute towards flare ups of a lot of conditions.

Something to remember – a lot of the symptoms common across a lot of chronic conditions are evidence not of the problem itself, but of your body fighting the problem. However low you feel the human body is a machine designed to strive to repair itself. If your body is doing the best it can, it’s counter productive to flood it with negativity which can be avoided.

I’m not attacking me though. Petunia’s not me – she’s an unwanted roommate who without death-defying leaps of progress in medical thinking will be sharing my space for good. Most of the time however I rub along well enough with her presence – there are of course days when I’d like to have her murdered in particularly innovative fashion, but they’re few and far between. I’m just not an angry person by nature, something I appreciate much more since falling ill than I ever did before. 

I will point out that I’m well aware that this is a personification I’ve made and that I don’t actually think there’s another person floating about. I’m not insane – just a little whimsical and off the wall at times, and armed with a particularly sarcastic and dry sense of humour.

This whimsy of mine comes back to a point I’ve made often on TRB; it’s all a matter of individual choice. I don’t have to justify to you why I choose to combat things in this way, and you don’t have to justify to me if you think I’m completely barking for doing so and your own methods are as far away from mine as can be. Nobody has to justify anything, because the only thing this is truly about is making yourself feel as comfortable as possible with a drastically uncomfortable unasked for situation.

Now if you all don’t mind I must dash, half of Hobbiton is expected for dinner….   

(Image from

I highly doubt I’m the only person who has discovered a quirky coping mechanism, please feel free to share yours in the comments section below as I’d love to hear them.

Wishing you all many spoons xxx


  1. Coincidentally a friend of mine who's been fighting numerous cancers for much of her life has called them Petunia.

    I agree that it's harmful and unhelpful to fight against our bodies. I was stuck in that rut for a long time. Now I see this as a war we're going through together, body and soul. It's better if I work with my body, not against it. It's essential to treat this body with extra loving care rather than punishing it out of anger over the new status quo.

    How we cope with our illnesses is as individual as we are and no one has the right to question our methods. x

  2. I'm still wading through the murky waters of coping mechanisms. With a body that is rapidly deteriorating and constantly dialoging with me in an unpleasant and decidedly NOT indoors voice, yet we're still not entirely sure what's going on... I am hard pressed to know where I would end and "Petunia" would begin. Right now it feels like it's all me, and me is all wonky.

    I still find myself slamming myself with doubts on all sides. "What if it's actually just a candida infection like my one friend suggested, and all this suffering could have been avoided and prevented? What if it's ____? What if this is actually ALL MY FAULT, and I have no right to outsource the responsibility for these symptoms?" So yeah... right now, it's all me. There's no Petunia to blame, just myself... and I'm terrified to find that I'm right and I've been doing this to myself all along somehow. (Ok, in the literal sense, I suppose I am, since my body has gone haywire and attacked itself, but I mean in the grander sense of the phrase.)

  3. A friend with ME calls her illness Kevin, after Kevin the Teenager TV character, and has done for years, same thinking as you! Me, I view FM as rather like an alien parasite that has invaded my body, sort of like the harnesses in Falling Skies, or at a push the Goa'uld. It's an outside influence that is trying to change me into something I am not, and I have to fight against it every day to stop myself becoming somebody else.

  4. Interesting stuff, any laughter is good I think and needed on a daily basis. I am very boring and cope with pacing myself and watching a comedy show each day and oh, yes, reading positive and uplifting things, keeping away from negativity.