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The Game of Living With Chronic Illness

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Game On

We relate to each other in many ways. Some of us have panic or anxiety attacks, some of us live in pain nobody can see daily. Others don’t sleep. We get depressed and lost, and confusion is a commonality. To ease our minds, or pass the time when we are weak, many of us play games on our devices. Come on, admit it, you know you do. As I was doing just that, I began to think about how our healthcare journeys resemble these silly little games.

Level One

The visit to the play store is over. You found it, a new game, editor’s choice. This is the first leg of the journey. The first day you wake up and you have a strange pain you never felt. This is the first time you stumble and fall. Just like in any of the games, you think, OK, I don’t completely understand, but I can do this. I can beat this silly game. Before you know it the tutorial is over and you have made it to level 20.


Many of these games let you watch ads to earn rewards, and sometimes you don’t get anything out of it. You are just stuck listening to someone telling you that their service is the best. This is so similar to our doctor’s visits, don’t you think? One day you go in and maybe they offer you something to give you a little help. Maybe an antidepressant that “magically” helps pain. Or perhaps they will write you out of work to give you some rest. Most of the time however, you sit in a tiny exam room listening to how you are wrong and they know best.

Leveling Up

You continue to play the games. You enjoy making the matches, or destroying a neighboring clan. Or perhaps you just like blowing zombies up. Whatever your preference, all of the games have one thing in common. Each level gets harder and harder. Often you are stuck on the same level for days. You have thought once about deleting the game and finding something else. But, you don’t, not yet. Chronic illnesses are the same. Every day you feel something different. Some days are so hard, getting out of bed is difficult. You have to keep trying though, your kids depend on you. Work has a new program that you must learn to succeed, rent is due, and once again the wolves are at the door.


Bundles are probably the most embarrassing part of admitting you play games. Why? Because you actually spent money on a package that lasted a whole two days if you try to ration your new found wealth. How many times have you been online and have seen a website for the latest miracle cure? You couldn’t help it, you just need a little help, and in goes your debit card. Or perhaps you are waiting in the pharmacy line and on the shelf is a product that describes your every symptom. Sure, it’s a little expensive, but if it helps… We waste so much money on get well soon items that we forget our common sense.

Game Over

Few people make it to the end of these games because the levels seem to go on forever. Let’s face it, in reality game over refers to death. None of us really want to know what that is just yet. What do we do? We go back to the game store and start the fool hearty process again. This time with new challenges and new levels. It is our lives. Nobody but us seems to understand this private release. Nobody but us understands the games we play.

Follow this journey on Shalai’s site.

Getty image via Nestea06

Originally published: October 28, 2020
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