Being a sick young adult in this world is not straightforward path. It’s a winding road full of surgeries, painful treatment, people who might not believe you, and even companies demanding money for saving your life and threatening to not save it anymore. With that being said, anyone who isn’t sick will not understand the sick. How could they?
The first thing I say when someone is experiencing a situation that I have never personally dealt with is, “I really don’t understand what you are going through, but I am here.” Why? Because it’s the truth. I think it’s a high form of ignorance to try to relate understanding when we really do not understand. How can we be understanding when we’ve never stepped into that world, we’ve only had a slight view of it? It’s completely different to see something, then experience it. You can watch someone chug vodka yet remain sober, but its different when you are the one chugging it too.
Lately I’ve spent some time reading very well written articles about how this is the year that social media is portraying “sick kids” and how it’s in style. Often I catch myself thinking, “no this isn’t a movie prop” when I walk around in public with my cannula up my nose. I definitely feel the anger as movies like The Fault in Our Stars rise to fame, and people become obsessed yet fail to realize that these sick kids are real, not just lovely on-screen actors. I’ve felt that ridiculous anger, believe me. These articles go so far as to say, and quote:
“But teenagers with illnesses do exist. I am one of them, and it hurts to see movies and television glamorize our suffering.” –Lillie Lainoff at Yale University
But amongst this rage, I had a lovely realization that is much easier to deal with than that annoying anger which I have every right to feel.
When I noticed the white and black clouds of a bright blue book at Hastings, it succeeded in triggering me to read the back. I didn’t have seventeen dollars at the time (I know, ridiculous) but I ran back into the store on payday, and immediately made it mine. The minute I read about Hazel’s cannula I laughed and screamed. I was hooked, which is an understatement, just like all of America. I wasn’t enthralled because Augustus is “so cute”, or Amsterdam is romantic, but I was enthralled to read that someone could describe my feelings on paper. It was refreshing to read of an illness which you think I would be sick of; pun intended.
I can’t say for other TV shows, or movies, but I’d like to think that The Fault in Our Stars was anything but glamorous. So many people, including myself, described it as emotional death. Yes, it needed a little glamor because it was in fact a movie, and it was nice to experience butterflies for just a bit before impending death. I think what I love about John Green is not only his intelligence, but how realistic he is. His writing is real, and TFiOS is raw. John Green was a chaplain in a children’s hospital which inspired TFiOS. As John Green has stated a long these lines in an interview, “What struck me about these kids was the fact that they weren’t always smiling, they had no amazing wisdom just because they have cancer like everyone thinks, but they were just kids who happened to be sick.” Exactly. As I saw Augustus’s missing leg, Hazel’s hospital visit, her rapid breathing, a shitty author with a twisted view of sick children, and the raw yet horrifying scene of Augustus throwing up and screaming that he “hates himself” days before his untimely death was not glamorous. A lot of people actually hate TFiOS because it wasn’t perfect. But those scenes, as many tears as they provoked, and as much my heart hurt, I smiled. Those feelings were so real; those scenes were amazing. I hate myself when I have to sit down because my body is failing me, and everyone else gets to do what they want yet I am once again reminded of my own fault.
The fault in people saying “Hollywood has it wrong, and is glamorizing my illness” is that they are looking to people for understanding where understanding is not due. Stop getting mad because you are searching for understanding which is beyond unrealistic, just like this show titled, “Red Band Society.” That show may be unrealistic, which from my research it does in fact sound like a shitty portray of disease, but I think its lovely John Green wrote this real book, inspired by real kids, and it ended very real. Dont attack TFiOS. He wasn’t looking for people to understand, or glamor, he just created a lovely work of art. I personally experienced a version of that story, but I know that a lot of people who saw that did not, and they probably never will. They wanted Augustus to live, and hated Hazel’s walls that she built around herself, but I have a version of those walls, and I accepted Augustus’s death. It still sucked though.
So yes, I am aware of the anger of feeling like my oxygen is a movie prop, and the possessive thoughts of feeling like TFiOS is “all mine” and that these teen girls are clueless. But I catch myself in remembrance that I am expecting understanding where it is not due. Those kids will not understand my story, they weren’t meant to, and they can’t help it. They can only see my story, and respect it. So appreciate this art, The Fault in Our Stars, rather than bashing it. Because when they buried Augustus Waters, and Isaac couldn’t even see that because he just had his one eye he had left removed, I felt anything but glamorous. I smiled though, because I knew that I was a rare person who has cried those tears, and had those exact thoughts. I understood, I felt it was meant for me, and it was beautiful.