Chronic illness. It’s something I don’t talk about very often because it’s really not a light conversation topic. It’s uncomfortable. It’s private. But it’s been weighing on my mind recently, and when things weigh on my mind, I write.
A brief look at me, and you could say I look fine -- healthy and happy. Most days I am, but some days I’m not. Chronic illness is called the “invisible illness” because it often goes unseen, people don’t understand how serious one’s condition is or how awful they may feel simply because it’s not physically evident -- someone with a chronic illness can appear perfectly normal. I live with a condition called Chronic Urticaria, or Chronic Hives. Hives are red, swollen and itchy patches of skin. In addition to these hives, these reactions are sometimes accompanied by Angioedema which is swelling that affects the deeper layers of skin, often in the eyes, lips, hands and almost anywhere else. This can make it uncomfortable to talk, keep my eyes open or use my fingers. If the reactions are severe enough, they sometimes affect my breathing or swallowing and I have to use an EpiPen.
It’s been almost four years since my diagnosis, and I wake up with these reactions on almost a daily basis. I’ve taken and been on almost every allergy drug you could possibly think of. I’ve had blood drawn and shots and tests and too many urgency care trips and doctors appointments to count -- but I do not write about this to attract sympathy or pity, in fact, that’s a big reason I usually don’t talk about it. If anything, I hope you develop a better understanding of chronic illness and how difficult it can be for someone.
The truth is, it doesn’t just affect someone physically, but emotionally and mentally. Along with the horrible side effects of one’s chronic illness, they can be accompanied by depression and anxiety. Did my life completely change when I was diagnosed with a chronic illness? Absolutely. Some days are harder than others. Chronic illness leads to a lot of questions and often no answers. Your body is the one thing that is truly yours on this planet, the one thing that no one can ever take away from you, but sometimes it feels as though chronic illness can do just that.
I don’t talk about my chronic illness because I would love for everyone to believe that I’m happy and healthy all the time, I would love to pretend my chronic illness doesn’t exist. I’m stubborn and independent and I absolutely loathe asking for help. But I’m not healthy and happy every second of the day -- and no one is. And as much as I hate to admit it, I need help sometimes. I do my best to hide what I deal with everyday, and most people don’t know what I deal with or how it affects me. And for the most part, I don’t want them to know. So why am I writing this?
Some will try to belittle what you’re going through, what you deal with or try to make their own assumptions and decisions about your own state of illness and how it affects you. It’s easy to dismiss me when I say I had an allergic reaction or really bad hives one day, especially if I can’t come to class or do certain things. It’s easy to say that someone is making their illness up, is using it for attention or as an excuse, or is exaggerating their illness. However, you can’t and shouldn’t do that. The only people who have any idea of what living with a chronic illness is like are those with chronic illnesses. I ask you to use your sympathy to understand that.
I was at an appointment with my allergist the other week, and she looked at the red, itchy hives covering my legs and said, “That’s not okay, we need to get you better. I know you’ve been tough, you’ve been so tough, but you shouldn’t have to live like this.” I almost burst out into tears right there in that doctor’s office. I have been tough, but it’s okay to not always be tough. To say how I feel without any sugar coating it: it sucks. Chronic illness absolutely sucks.
For some, chronic illness is permanent, incurable. For all, it’s unfair. I can be upset about my situation, and sometimes I am. But most days I choose to become stronger, more resilient and a more understanding person because of it. My chronic illness is not me, it’s just something I have. It doesn’t define me or the life I live. God doesn't give you anything you can't handle, and I do believe that.
If you’re close to anyone with a chronic illness or condition, just let them know you’re there. Offer them your love and support. Even though you may not understand completely what they’re going through, just let them know they don’t have to suffer alone.