Even if I Lose My Diagnosis, I Will Never Lose My Chronic Illness Tribe


Before diagnosis, the decades in the wilderness where I did not even have the words or constructs to understand my pain and exhaustion, never mind anything to understand them, it was terribly, terribly lonely and very, very frightening. I stumbled around in the dark and had absolutely no idea where I was either going to or coming from. I am sure I did the old proverbial “walk around in circles” thing on many occasions without even knowing it.

Then came diagnosis. As I look back on the two years since then, the journey has been just as wild. But it has been very different too. Diagnosis may be the end of one journey, but it is also the beginning of a new one. A way less lonely journey. Before diagnosis, there was just me. I had no tribe, and I belonged nowhere. Post-diagnosis, I have become a vital member of not only a tribe but an army. I am a Zebra, I belong to The Mighty, I am a team member of many groups and I feel as though I contribute and make a difference in some small way. I have all the benefits of belonging to a tribe, and I no longer walk alone in this part of my life.

But that diagnosis keeps threatening to change. As each new specialist throws in their opinion (whether asked for or not), as criteria for diagnosis evolves and tightens, and as new discoveries are made, especially in genetics and science labs, the fear of being kicked out of my tribe is great. What would happen if I was told I no longer belong? What if was sent out into the wilderness again?

There are massive potential problems and complications for medical insurance and doctor options when losing the diagnosis, but in many ways, the scariest part is the fact that I would be back to where I was before. Out there in the desert again, a lonely leper.

But the reality is that the door to diagnosis wasn’t just about the specific diagnosis. It felt like it at the time, but in truth, it just led me to find a larger and more complicated tribe than simply the EDS Zebras. I belong to the chronic illness world which includes the undiagnosed! It turned out that I belonged to a whole tribe I didn’t even know about, that I didn’t know even existed, never mind how to find them!

When fibromyalgia was added to my official diagnosis, I wasn’t stumped and lost like I was after the EDS diagnosis. Instead, I simply popped over to the other “department” of The Mighty, asked around my “rare diseases” community, popped the questions on my Facebook page instead of having to search for new people and had more answers than I could cope with within the hour. If I was to lose my EDS diagnosis tomorrow, I would not be all alone in the wilderness again, I would simply slightly adjust my position among my comrades.

There are over 200 connective tissue disorders (CTD) and every doctor, no matter their other opinions, agrees that I, and my children, all have a CTD. They also agree it is genetic as we all have the same symptoms. Most of those CTDs fall into one of a small handful of categories, and we have very clearly (thankfully) ruled out of most of them because they do have specific tests. The closest fit and the only category left are the Ehlers-Danlos syndromes, so while we still don’t fit very neatly into one of them yet, the doctors tell me it doesn’t really matter which one because we can’t fix it anyway.

When I think about it with my heart I get fearful and anxious. I can’t help wanting to be more of a certainty. I am frightened of being a “token” member instead of a “real” one. The memories of the wilderness are all too near, and they haunt me in my weakest moments. Pleeeease don’t send me back out there! Pleeeease let me stay here in the safety of my tribe! I am a Zebra, I always have been and I always will be.

But when I think with my head, I know that for the most part, they are right. And no matter any change in diagnosis, I will always belong to the tribe.

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog.

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