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The Difference Between Seasonal Sickness and Chronic Illness

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I have an appreciation for “seasonal sickness.”

No, I don’t really want to get sick. I mean, I’m already dealing with enough health issues as it is! And the flu this year is scary. Taking out perfectly healthy people, scary. But here’s the thing with the “common cold” and seasonal flu that is different than dealing with a chronic illness: people get it. And by “get it,” I don’t necessarily mean they physically contract it… although the majority of the people I know, have. But people “get it” in the sense that they understand it. That there is a beginning, a middle and an end. That is something healthy people can’t comprehend when it comes to chronic illness. There was a beginning… and we are stuck in the middle of it. There is no end.

When you get the “common person sickness,” whether it be the cold, flu or allergies, you might post your misery on social media and get wonderful comments and support of sympathy. There may be offers of dropping off a nice meal, helping out with carpool, shared misery and sincere well wishes sent your way. When you post something about the chronic illness you are dealing with, a lot of times… there are “crickets,” maybe a sad emoji… but otherwise, awkward silence.

When you feel yourself coming down with the viruses that are running rampant during the winter months, you may sit in the waiting room at the doctor’s with others, nodding the same knowing look that you or your family were struck down too, despite all the hand washing, flu shots and pushing fluids. You knew there was a way to avoid getting it. You know how you got here. Similar people will be hanging out in the same aisle at the local CVS or Walgreens perusing the shelves for the best over-the-counter medication with the least side effects. Maybe sharing a conversation about what has worked in the past.

With chronic illness, you may share a waiting room within a specialty of others dealing with illness that fall under the same “umbrella”… maybe rheumatology or neurology. There is often no sharing of stories because we all might be there for different reasons. We may be head down, seated anxiously… waiting to be called in next. The medications we might receive come from a pharmacist, who before releasing them to you, discusses the warnings and side effects. And more often than not, the side effects are the same symptoms you are currently dealing with. Or perhaps you go back in a room by yourself and are hooked up to machinery and IVs. There’s not much shared camaraderie there. You have no clue how all “this” happened.

When you emerge from seasonal sickness, people welcome you back… to the gym, the coffee shop, work. They missed you and are so glad you are feeling better. “Phew, that was a doozy, I’m not sure how I survived that, it was miserable!” When you have a chronic illness, unfortunately… you may start to slowly disappear from life. You may no longer be able to go to the gym, a coffee might be a special financial treat and may not be able to work. People stop noticing that you are missing. You are still trying to survive.

When you’re a parent with seasonal sickness, your kids might have to fend for themselves for a day or two… guilt hardly touches you when they have PB&J sandwiches for dinner one night. The day’s laundry might sit and tiny piles might grow of things needing to be done. But you likely don’t really stress about it, because this illness will be short-lived and family routine and a smooth running household will return just as soon as you kick this “ish” to the curb. You are counting down the days. Any day now you’ll be back to your fully functioning self.

The opposite holds true for those dealing with chronic illness. You might work extra hard to provide decent meals for your kids every day because too often we have to resort to “pizza night,” yet again. The piles may turn into mountains that you pick at to make a dent in. You handle the urgent stuff first and determine the other stuff isn’t as dire. The standards of a “Beaver Cleaver” household have been lowered. You may be just getting by. The guilt can be soul-crushing. You might count the days for a different reason, as an accomplishment that you’ve managed to survive the roller coaster of chronic illness for another day. There is no end count, no finish line. Just another day to attempt to overcome, like you miraculously managed to do yesterday.

So, there’s something to be said about getting the common November-March illness… you get to be “normal” in the sick world for a change. You get to wade through the season like everyone else, lucky if you dodge the bullet of those shared germs. You’re even optimistic that the flu shot they excitedly hand out each year (for free!) might spare you from it. After all, there is hope in this needle.

And, unlike chronic illness… there is a beginning, a middle and an end.

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Getty Image by Eva-Foreman

Originally published: January 29, 2018
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