To the People Who Think My Chronic Illness Makes Me Weak

To those who think my illness makes me weak:

I see the way I’m looked at these days. Some of you look at me with pity, others with curiosity and still others with disdain. You think that because I have a chronic illness, I am weak and lazy and have no ambition. You see me as less than you. 

Don’t try to deny it, because I know how true it is. You see, I used to be you.

Before I became chronically ill, I didn’t realize that many people don’t have the energy to take a shower each day. Or that it’s not always possible to force yourself to complete a task because there’s just no way your body is able to cooperate. I didn’t realize that there are many diseases just waiting to ambush the innocent, diseases that cannot be cured or effectively treated. I certainly didn’t realize that I would one day be one of “those” people.

I thought I was strong, and then I found out what strong really is. Strong is just getting out of bed each morning. Strong is caring for your family when all you want to do is crawl into a hole and hide. Strong is navigating a health care system that is not always friendly to those of us with conditions that cannot be neatly categorized and handled by checking off treatment options on a predetermined list. Strong is persevering when you’re denied pain medications because you’re labeled a drug seeker, or fighting back when you’re told your insurance will not pay for a procedure or a medication because it’s not covered under your plan. Strong is the definition of each person who lives with a chronic illness.

You have no idea how hard we fight to maintain our lives after we become ill. We don’t want to stop working, exercising or socializing, but most of us cannot do these things any longer. We struggle with changing our ambitions and desires to fit within this new life we’ve been handed. Most people hate change and avoid it at all costs. We have no choice. 

We want you in our corner. But we are able to make it without you if we must. We’ve learned to find others like us and form bonds only we can understand. Our strength is not just for ourselves — it’s also for the millions battling our same enemies. Our shoulders are broad enough and strong enough to carry this load. Would yours be?

I believe life for the chronically ill is harder than it is for most people. We can’t always just fight through the pain, the fatigue, the desperation. Tasks that seem easy to the average person can push us to the edge of exhaustion and affect us for days afterwards. But please, don’t let any momentary weakness affect your perception of us. Because of our illnesses and how hard we have to fight each and every day, I believe we are stronger than most and more capable, too.

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