The Mighty Logo

The Many 'Layers' of Chronic Illness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Remember that classic line from Shrek? “Onions have layers, ogres have layers. You get it? We both have layers!”

In a way it makes me laugh, but at the same time, it blows my mind thinking that chronic illness can feel so similar.

That initial diagnosis sounds so simple. If you’re like me, I walked into my doctor’s office, got diagnosed with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome), left with the rest routine and that was it. Simple, right? If only! 


First, there’s fatigue, causing me to sleep all the time, limiting more and more the things I did every day. Then there were the random body crashes, the migraines, the photophobia, the struggle to feel a part of society, communities, social interactions disturbance, dissociation, sensory overload, joint and body pain, temperature confusion, insomnia, mental health instability, lack of motivation, and on and on it goes.

It’s not just about the physical – it affects the social, mental, spiritual, emotional, etc. We need to think about chronic illness in a holistic way. You will find that it won’t just affect one aspect of your life, but many. How full on is that?! Like I’ve said in my other stories, we need to make ourselves aware that we are all different. We need different types of support and have different needs because we all tackle and experience our illnesses differently.

But how do we tackle it all at once? The appointments, waiting rooms, blood tests, talking to psychologists, counseling, medication tryouts, physiotherapy, rest, exercise physiotherapy and every other approach that may or may not be helpful – it’s all recommended to us. We are constantly met with ideas of what we should try and what is next to be tried in the process of each of our recovery journeys, leaving us – most of the time – even more exhausted.

There is so much we experience that you don’t see. The tears, the nights awake in bed staring at the walls, the agony of pain, the loneliness, the anxiety, the depression and the struggles with mental health. When we don’t get to see our friends and be in our social environments or groups, our lives are put on hold. All these things matter – every aspect needs to be taken into consideration to move forward.

Feeling tired yet?

First, remember to breathe. Get people around you to support you and drive you to appointments, touch base with your friends, invite them over to help make food, have people over to sit with, go for walks, watch movies. Be patient. This is all overwhelming. For most of us who have a chronic illness to the extreme, it sucks and makes us even more tired. What is worse is when doctors look at everything separately and forget where everything stems from. You feel you’re not being heard, and around and around the process you go – which, if you are like me, has caused countless appointments to end in tears and frustration.

The process of trying to cover all bases of care may be overwhelming, but don’t give up on getting the proper care you need. Get the helpful hints, the rest and everything else you need to begin or continue on the road to recovery. There are so many layers, and not one of them should be ignored.

You’re amazing; remember this through all the pain and tears. You are remarkable and so much stronger than you think.

Take hold of the small wins and celebrate every joy and victory in your day. Hold on, you’ve got this. You’re not alone.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Ingram Publishing.

Originally published: June 21, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home