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The Unique Challenges of Being Young and Chronically Ill


I think sometimes people forget that a young person can also have a chronic illness or chronic pain. It’s hard having to explain that I am in constant pain at such a young age. I always get, “But you’re so young!” Or, “You don’t look sick,” or even better, “You need to tough it out sometimes. Just think how it is for people who are older than you.” These comments are hurtful. It is hard enough dealing with medical problems at such a young age, and also dealing with other people’s opinions of my sickness. I realize that I am going to spend the majority of my life struggling with my illness. That’s not easy to swallow in itself. As a young person, I wanted to be able to do anything and everything I could before I aged and became less mobile. Unfortunately my body had other ideas and with the crushing diagnosis of fibromyalgia, that is not possible.

Being so young, I also get a hard time from doctors. I was told only a few months ago, by a pain specialist I was seeing, that I was too young to be taking pain medication. I have tried every therapy and drug out there for relief with no luck. It seems like some doctors think you have to be older to deserve pain relief. Why is my pain not as important to treat as someone’s who is older than me? Doctors seem to have the impression that young people should be tougher as well, or that stronger medication is not needed. Going in to the doctor complaining of pain will often get you labeled a drug seeker or you will flat-out be refused because of your age. The stereotype that young people are the only drug abusers is simply not true, and doctors should treat people with chronic illnesses with respect and compassion no matter their age. Respect and trust between a doctor and their patient is vital to receiving good care.

My social life is very small due to my pain. It seems like telling friends or some family that you are tired, in pain, or don’t want to go out and put yourself in pain isn’t a good enough reason to miss an outing. If you’re young, you’re supposed to be able to go strong and party hard… right? Not for young people with chronic illness. Everyone thinks young people bounce back faster from strenuous activities or late outings but the truth is with chronic illness, that doesn’t happen for us. For myself, recovering from sharing a bottle of wine with my girlfriend takes a good two days of rest and non-strenuous activity. That’s only sharing a bottle of wine sitting in front of a nice relaxing bonfire! For more strenuous activities, such as swimming or bowling, it takes even longer to recover. I have to pick and choose what to do based on how much time it’s going to take to recover and whether the pain and exhaustion that follows is worth it or not.

I feel that the young part of the chronic illness community often gets ignored, or treated as not as important because we are young. This is another hurtful thing to see. Young people are not faking it, or lesser because we are younger. I wish everyone in the chronic pain community would respect each other equally. We are all fighting a battle against an illness and should band together. Young, old, and everything in between, everyone with a chronic medical problem deserves to be equally respected, listened to, and trusted. Don’t you agree?