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Why I Feel More Comfortable With Older People as a Young Woman With Chronic Illness

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I am a 25-year-old woman, but I have always felt older due to my multiple medical conditions. I do not relate at all to people my age, I never have. I have always felt so much more comfortable in the company of older people. I think the main reason for this is because older people know what it is like to have your body fail you. They have been through a lot over the course of their entire lives, while we chronically ill people have gone through a lot in the course of a few years.

I’ve found that people around my age and younger often lack compassion and foresight. They live in the now and can be spontaneous. People my age are physically able to go on an epic adventures at will. Older people and chronically ill people do not have this luxury. I would love to be spontaneous, but I can’t because I never know how I will be feeling at any given moment. I cannot live in the now; I have to live carefully weighing every option I take because I know that each of my actions has a very serious consequence in the future. Young people usually don’t think like this. They do not necessarily weigh every option, they often just act upon impulse.

It is so hard for me to be around people my own age because the differences between us are staggering. I feel like an outcast among young adults and I often choose not to spend time with people my age, or to be more selective of the ones I do allow in my life. It is hard for young adults to know and learn real compassion because they are just at the beginning of their lives. Most of them have never had to struggle so they cannot necessarily relate to those who have had to struggle their whole lives. It is something I witness far too often.

I enjoy the wisdom of the older people I have in my life. I feel like we are kindred spirits in our struggles. The older that people get, the more their bodies change and start to fail them. Older people can understand what it feels like to want to do something but to not be able to because your own body won’t let you. This is a concept that seems hard for young people to grasp. I’ve found that young people in general tend to look at a person with a chronic illness and automatically assume they are lazy because they don’t do things that other young adults do, but they never seem to assume an older person with the same struggles is lazy.

When people look at their elders, they know that their bodies do not move in the way that they used to and they often show great compassion to these people, as they should. Through my experiences, people tend to not show as much compassion to those with chronic illness because we are young and our illnesses are invisible — but if a perfectly healthy-looking older person is in the same situation, regardless of if they have a chronic illness, I think they are more likely to be treated with kindness and understanding.

When I talk to my elders they can truly empathize with me. They know what it’s like to not be able to get out of bed due to pure exhaustion and pain. My elders know what it’s like to have multiple tests done at the hospital and know what it’s like to have various medical procedures. To them it is just how their life has to be at this age. To me, it is also normal to go through multiple medical procedures and to go to the doctors a lot. Older people know what it’s like to have to take different medications because it is the only option you have if you want to have any shot at a normal life.

People my age tend to shy away from these subjects and are often uncomfortable discussing medical issues and this makes it all the more hard on me when I am around them. I try not to bring up my medical problems, but often I am forced to remind people that I cannot keep up with them because of said medical problems and then that becomes everyone’s focus — I become “the sick girl.” I want to never speak of them again, to just be an ordinary young adult, but I can’t and I often feel suffocated, like there is no escape from dealing with my chronic illness. When I am with older people who have similar problems, I feel like I can breathe. My pace of life mirrors that of older people, so my medical problems don’t have to be brought up as often, and if they are I am able to just move on from them and they do not become a focus point for everyone, I can be myself.

In many ways I wish I could be an ordinary 25-year-old woman who has other friends her own age. I wish my life could have the pace that it should at this age, but I know it can’t. I am so grateful to all of my elders because they truly understand and have real empathy. I am glad in many ways that the pace of my life is slower — if it wasn’t, I would just be another young adult who wouldn’t have gotten to know and learn from my amazing and very wise elders. I don’t want to have my body fail me and I don’t want to be in pain all the time, but I am glad that I have individuals who can have gone through or are going through the same things in their lives. I obviously do not want anyone to go through these struggles, but I am glad I have a community of elders who have become my true friends. It is because of them that I do not feel like a total outcast.

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

Originally published: December 15, 2016
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