To the People Who Don’t Understand Why I Share My Struggles With Chronic Illness

Inspirational speaker, teacher and life coach Iyanla Vanzant once said:

“It’s important that we share our experiences with other people. Your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else. When you tell your story, you free yourself and give other people permission to acknowledge their own story.”

I couldn’t agree with her more. Although I come from a family that has always believed strongly in keeping personal matters private, my life experiences have led me to a different conclusion. Personally, I think there is nothing more authentic a person can do than share their stories of struggle with others. Whatever form it takes — conversation, writing, artistic expression — it takes a great deal of courage to tell people when your life has gotten difficult. Sharing the details of an illness, loss or hardship requires real inner strength because of the potential emotions that can be stirred up and the unpredictable reactions of others.

It can be easy to talk about what is going on in our lives when all is well. Many of us likely have few reservations about announcing our educational achievements, career successes, engagements, marriages, pregnancies and births to the world. In most cases, we are excited for everyone to learn of our good fortune. And most everyone is more than eager to respond with words of congratulations and well-wishes. But usually we are much more hesitant to disclose our struggle with a physical or mental illness, the loss of a loved one or economic hardships. We know we may not be met with comments of care and concern. We may not be met with anything at all. And that is what I think a lot of us fear more than negative comments: that we will be ignored altogether and that no one will care.

But ultimately, it is not about the people who won’t understand, but about the people who will. When we share our struggles, we show people in similar situations that they are not alone. We reassure them that they have no reason to be ashamed of what they are dealing with or how they are coping with it. Our words may be a source of hope — proof that it is possible to overcome, to thrive or to survive. Our stories may help people through particularly rough points, add levity to difficult or unpleasant situations, or simply resonate with the person who happens to hear it.

Unfortunately, when a person chooses to discuss their physical or mental illness, there is always the risk of discrimination. I have weighed the potential of being discriminated against because of my chronic illnesses and anxiety with the possibility that my story may comfort, reassure, or inspire someone else who is struggling. And, so far, I have not regretted sharing my stories with the world. My ultimate motivation in this life is to help others, and if writing about what I go through can do that, I will absolutely continue to do so.

Of course, it is a very personal decision to share the private details of your life with the world. But for someone out there, it could make a world of difference.

Follow this journey on Chronically Enlightened.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one unexpected source of comfort when it comes to your (or a loved one’s) disability and/or disease? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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