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The Danger of Envying Normalcy as Someone With a Chronic Illness

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After years of chronic health issues, I have developed my own version of “normal,” a daily routine that allows me to function out in the world to the best of my abilities. This normal does not look like my friends’ or colleagues’ “normals,” whether they are fully healthy or not.

I know this on some level, but it can still be frustrating to navigate the intersection between being a working professional and being someone with health challenges. This is revealed in often small, seemingly insignificant moments: making sure to count out my medications at the beginning of each week so they are easily grabbed on my way out the door on weekday mornings, basing my outfit on whether or not I will be spending an extended amount of time at a doctor’s office, juggling appointments with meetings at work, seeing my many surgical scars when changing for the gym.

I have the above down to a science, but sometimes I am reminded that this is not what is normal for everyone. It has been my normal for the past 10 years since my first surgery. But just because I am used to the myriad appointments on my calendar, medication reminders of my phone or my ever-changing diet doesn’t mean I don’t have my moments of misguided envy.

I envy my coworkers who are able to schedule vacations without worrying they’ll need the extra days for medical-related absences. I envy my friends whose biggest worries involve dating and where to get an affordable but not terrible haircut.

I’ve realized that these misguided feelings of envy emerge when I am feeling the most stressed about my health. It is when my medical issues feel like a burden that I begin to wish I was more like those without chronic illnesses. At the same time, I also believe that a lot of my life skills have developed because of my health challenges.

I am super organized and able to prioritize – something that is a daily balancing act for someone with a chronic illness, especially if one of their symptoms is chronic fatigue. If I go to this gym class, will I be too tired to attend my friend’s birthday dinner after? If I tidy up my room, will I have enough energy left to finish my term paper? For me, this translates easily to my work as a publicity assistant, balancing layers of responsibilities while trying not to max myself out.

I think I also have a particular sense of self-awareness that stems from having to keep such a close eye on my health. This makes me keenly aware of any differences, however minute they may seem, between myself and others. When I am feeling particularly down, I view these differences in a negative light – as things that make me less normal, that set me apart.

This self-awareness means I am also aware of how silly it is to envy someone else for what I perceive as their normalcy. Chances are, they have insecurities from challenges of their own that make them feel different. I am trying to change my thought pattern because on some level I know it is not a healthy way of thinking.

What I’m trying to internalize the most is that I am comparing myself to a standard that in reality does not exist. There is no normal, there is no perfect, there is no one way of living. We all adapt to our unique situations and figure out the best ways to live our lives in ways that work for us. This means that my “normal” looks completely different from my friend’s “normal,” and even if I sometimes may think otherwise, I don’t belong in someone else’s equilibrium.

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Thinkstock photo via AnaBGD.

Originally published: May 22, 2017
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