When I was in fourth grade, my favorite dinner table topic was “my future.” To the dismay of my older brother, I was obsessed with talking about every aspect of my assuredly–glorious life—my lucrative career as an ice cream truck driver, my husband, my kids, my dogs and my miniature pot–bellied pig. If the ice cream truck thing didn’t work out, I could always just open a bakery (still the plan). Any residual indecision could easily be resolved, of course, with the game MASH, which seemed to be the authority on the future anyway.
Ask me what I want to do with my life today, and I’ll give you a quizzical stare.
As it turns out, I don’t want to adult. I don’t want to worry about my laundry, my dishes, my taxes or my career. I don’t know what a 401(k) is (sorry, Penn). Sometimes I don’t shower for three days (sorry, roomies). My signature is different every time I draw it (sorry, HubBub). It’s all very professional. As the clock ticks on the time bomb that is real life, I often feel like my fourth–grade self would be more prepared for the world than current me.
Last summer, I practiced adulting. I moved out of Penn dorms, started a real internship, fostered three tiny kittens and occasionally put on lipstick. I was also diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a harsh reality which, in conjunction with the three cats, left me feeling closer to 80 years old than 20.
A lifelong autoimmune disease was, unfortunately, not outlined in the fourth–grade plan. Suddenly, my wrists were sore, my heels in pain and my knees achy. I couldn’t fasten my bra strap because my fingers were so swollen—I was back to the classic clipping in front and scooting it around method (popular in both seventh grade and on hungover mornings). Sandals would no longer cut it for the walk home from work. My Google search for “cute and orthotic–friendly shoes” yielded no results.
On one hand, arthritis was a reality check that it was really time to be an adult—to start prioritizing my health and taking care of myself. On the other (swollen, stiff) hand, nothing has ever left me feeling so clueless and childish.
My low point arrived in the waiting room of the lab one day in July, as I was waiting to have blood drawn to check up on severe anemia. “Do you have blood in your stools?” My doctor had asked minutes before, puzzled over my dropping hemoglobin levels. I smirked and shook my head that, no, I was not pooping blood. She sent me to the lab anyway, where for a moment, my frustration overcame me.
That afternoon, I bit back tears. I was exhausted from work, from cleaning up kitten puke, from medical uncertainty. I didn’t want to cry in front of the assortment of people in the waiting room, who almost certainly had bigger problems to deal with than I did.
When they handed me my goodie bag on the way out, aka my take–home stool sample kit, my tears dissipated, and I laughed for five minutes straight. If you’ve never had the pleasure of receiving a DIY stool sample kit, you have truly missed out on one of life’s most thoughtful gifts. The contents include: one sombrero–shaped plastic white bucket (for shitting), two blue latex gloves (for picking up your own shit), one tiny glass vial (for containing and delivering your shit) and one brown paper bag (for pretending it’s lunch and not a literal bag of shit).
I’ll spare you the details, but it was gross and hilarious, and the best part of the whole thing was throwing out a hat full of my feces in my ex–boyfriend’s garbage.
If anything has made me feel like an infant again, it was pooping in a hat. In contrast, every five minutes I have spent alone in the waiting room of the rheumatology office has aged me ten years.
Having arthritis has been like that—a constant back–and–forth of my own perception of my maturity. I feel in control, adult, competent, and then I am floored by my smallness, my lack of knowledge and by the vastness of what maybe lies ahead. Driving myself to New Jersey for a doctor’s appointment felt adult, until the doctor looked at me drowning in the pink paper gown and held his arm out for a fist bump. Researching medication options on my own was mature, but I couldn’t help but feel like a college–aged idiot as I tried to explain to my doctor that I couldn’t go on methotrexate, the most common medication but also one that is not alcohol–friendly, because I prioritized my Thursday night Long Island iced teas. When it comes to adulting, I don’t want to pick a side.
But maybe, hopefully, definitely, that’s okay because when it comes down to it, it’s not the arthritis making me feel young, then old, then young again. It’s being in college, and the fact that we’re all just toeing the line of adulthood—barely–20–somethings bumbling around and pretending to have an inkling about how we want to live our lives.
Unless, of course, you actually do feel like an adult, in which case I hope that works out for you, and that your plan doesn’t involve pooping in any hats.