Living with a chronic illness is like living behind the mirror. You can see all the normal people going around with their day-to-day lives, you can even occasionally join in. However, you always know that no matter how close you are to those around you, you’re always going to feel a million miles away.
And why is this?
Because chronically ill people are really hard to understand. Without living our lives, it’s impossible to know all the millions of unrelenting thoughts and feelings we have about our conditions and the way they force us to interact with the world. These five confessions are all universal truths that almost every chronic illness sufferer wishes they could tell you, but will probably never have the courage to say.
1. Don't Forget About Me
I know I’m not there very often, and I know I always flake out and cancel plans at the last minute, but please please please don’t forget about me. Every time I fail to show up, it’s just as disappointing to me as it is to you. More than anything, I wish I could spend more time with you and all of my friends, but it’s just not possible. I worry every day that you’ll feel like I don’t care enough about you when the reality is that it kills me every time I can’t be there and you’re struggling, or when you’re celebrating an important occasion in your life.
The isolation of chronic and mental illness can be one of the most difficult parts. If I’m not beating myself up for missing crucial life events, I’m struggling to fit into normal society and have conversations about normal things. All of this complication is then only highlighted by the worry that all of my friends will think I’ve stopped caring about them because I don’t hang out with them as often as I used to. If you want to do anything to make my life a little bit easier then just promise me you won’t ever forget about me, no matter how long I spend away in hiding!
2. I'm Sorry That I'm Sorry
I apologize a lot. At times it seems like I can’t ask a favor without saying sorry after. It’s clear that it can become annoying after a while. The thing is that I worry so much that people will think I’m taking advantage of their kindness or asking too much of them. When you have to ask for help all the time you definitely start to feel like a stuck record.
I’m sorry how often I tell you that I can’t make it; I’m sorry that I’ll make a big deal out of your birthday then stay at home; I’m sorry I said I’d stay out all night but now I can’t; I’m sorry I keep asking you to make me tea; I’m sorry I can’t help you wash up; I’m sorry I have to kick you out when I get tired. There’s a lot to be sorry about. I’m sorry about all of it, and I’m sorry about being sorry on top of that. You get the gist; it’s a ridiculous cycle, and it never ends--bear with me.
3. Don't Try To Fix Me
I know you’re just trying to help and that more than anything else you want to see me better. However, when you come out with a fad diet or exciting new superfood that might cure all my problems, don’t expect me to act enthusiastically. It’s not that I’m not willing to try those kinds of things; it’s just that if it exists and there’s potential it will make me better then I definitely already know about it.
There’s nothing more frustrating that having to listen to your theories about the cause of my health problems, the flaws in the medical system, and the new cure-all magical substance that you’ve never even tried because you’re not sick. I know you don’t mean to, but it feels incredibly patronizing. Our relationship will be a lot smoother if you trust that I’m the expert on how sick I am and I don’t need your input. Although, saying that, it’s totally fine if you talk to me about this kind of stuff--just be sure the talking is two-ways, instead of a lecture.
4. I Don't Understand Either
At risk of sounding like an angst-ridden teenager: no-one understands me. Even my nearest and dearest will make plans that force me to push myself and expect way too much from me. At work I get constantly asked about deadlines and ‘how long will it take’ and can never give a solid response. I can definitely see that it must be annoying to try and make any sort of arrangement with me, but I need you to know that I’m not being difficult. It’s simply that what’s going on with my body is just an unpredictable and sporadic for me as it is for you.
Chronic and mental illness resides a part of life and existence that we don’t really understand yet. More often than not, not even medical professionals know why the condition happens or how to cure it. Sometimes I question whether all the labels we’re given really mean anything, or whether they’re just there to cover up our complete obliviousness to the truth behind chronic health problems. So, sorry if I can’t answer you questions or give you a detailed analysis of my abilities, I’ll let you know if that ever changes!
5. I'm Awesome
In reality, this is probably something that I need to say to myself more than I need to say it with others, but it’s still relevant on both counts. Chronic illness has a nasty habit of making your feel useless. Often you can’t achieve even the simplest of things, such as showering, and you’re left as a gross, unflattering mess, unable to get out of bed or do anything positive and productive with yourself at all.
Well, even if by society's standards I’m just straddling the breadline in terms of life success, I have something to tell you all: I am so awesome. The stuff I go through every day is tricky, to say the least, and I face it like a true warrior--most of the time at least. I don’t need a flashy paycheck, a bursting social calendar, and a perfectly contoured face to feel like I’m worth something in life. Even when I’m completely incapable, I am proud of everything I achieve on a daily basis (Did you hear that self? Time to accept it. It’s true.)
Navigating relationships with your nearest and dearest can be tricky when you’re sick all the time. Everyone wants to help but most of the time you don’ even know what support you need yourself. In reality, is there any wonder most of us chose to stay quiet and keep our worries to ourselves?
If you’re sick and you have an honest truth to add to the list please leave a comment below, now is your time to speak up! If you’re lucky enough to be in good health then, let me know how you’d respond if one of your chronically ill friends confessed these things to you!