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To the Person Who Told Me My Chronic Illness Is 'All in My Head'

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I don’t like talking about being chronically ill, almost as much as I don’t like being chronically ill. I have never liked talking about it and I probably never will. I accept it’s a major part of my life, and while it has helped shape me as a person, I will never allow it to define me. So if I decide to confide in you, whether I tell you I’m nervous about an upcoming appointment or I ask you if you have any medicine for my brewing migraine, I expect you to understand I’m not doing it for attention — I’m doing it because I need help and I really trust you.

When I pluck up the courage to mention having long-term health conditions, more often than not I get comments like, “But you look so well,” “You’re too young for that” or “I’m sure it’s all in your head.” And while you may have good intentions by saying these things, I could really do without these judgments.

I have been told by someone I would have considered a friend that all my chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis symptoms were psychosomatic, because she’d just learned about it in a psychology lesson. When you say these things, it really does make me feel like I’m a fraud. When you belittle me after I trusted you enough to speak to you about something so private, you’re basically telling me I’m a liar. Do you really think if I had the control you seem to think I have over my illnesses, I would choose to be in pain 24/7, choose to be too tired to go out with my friends and family, choose to feel so awful all the time that I have to convince myself to get out of bed, or choose to take so many pills and medications I’ve lost track of them all?

While you probably don’t recall what you said or even remember that we had a conversation by the time you got home that day, I will never get that pleasure. Because now, every time I see you, all I will be able to think of is how you made me feel. When you tell me it’s all in my head, sometimes I do wonder, “What if they’re right? What if this is all my fault?” When you’re questioned on an almost daily basis about your health and have been told there’s nothing actually wrong with you by people who have never even heard of your condition, it really takes a toll. Every time someone says something negative about your health, a little piece of your self-belief gets chipped away. Every day, my happiness and self-confidence that I feel make life worth living are whittled away by other people’s ignorance.

I can’t help but wonder if you would be so quick to judge if you had to live like me for a day, or for even just an hour. Would you find it so easy to say it was all part of my imagination? Would you think it would be OK for someone to say the things you said to me?

So next time I, or anyone for that matter, opens up to you about their health, please just take the time to realize that speaking to you about this is probably one of the hardest things they will have to do all day. Please don’t make comments without thinking about them first. Please don’t jump to conclusions about things you have probably never heard of. But most of all, please just be understanding and say, “I’m here for you.”

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Originally published: February 11, 2016
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