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15 Common Misconceptions About Chronic Illness

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Living with a chronic illness can be difficult at the best of times, but the misconceptions you encounter about chronic illness can be surprising and frustrating. If you or someone you love has a chronic illness, it can be helpful to know what expectations the people around you may have, for better or worse. While you can’t always stop misconceptions in their tracks, being aware of them can help you navigate them a little easier.

1. You can tell how ill someone is by looking at them.

Many people think that if someone isn’t visibly suffering, they must not be ill. But what they don’t understand is how much effort often goes into not appearing ill. Additionally, because many people with chronic illness regularly live with significant pain, they may react differently to it than the rest of us.

2. If you can attend a social event, you’re not chronically ill.

People with chronic illness deserve to participate in life events, too. They may have to prepare with ample rest and working out the correct medications to be able to attend a social event, but that shouldn’t preclude them from going. It also shouldn’t make anyone assume they’re fine because they attended.

3.  Chronic illness won’t prevent you from regular activities if you rest afterward.

Although rest before and after a social event or physical effort may help some people, rest is not a cure-all. Yes, some chronically ill people will prep for certain outings by resting more, and they may recover afterward with extra rest, too. However, that doesn’t mean they are free from a surge in their pain or symptoms. It all depends on the person and their illness.

4. Mindfulness exercises always provide relief from chronic illness.

Many people tout the benefits of mindfulness exercises to relieve symptoms and pain, and research shows that mindfulness exercises can really help. However, mindfulness can’t eliminate a chronic illness. It may be able to ease some pain in the short term and may help with managing symptoms, but it’s not a cure.

5. All chronic illnesses cause regular, consistent pain.

Chronic illnesses can manifest in a variety of different ways. Some can cause ongoing, consistent symptoms and pain, while others have flare-ups and times when symptoms come and go. A person does not have to be in pain constantly for their illness to be difficult or serious.

6. People with chronic illnesses are “lucky” they get to relax so much.

Ask anyone with a chronic illness who is required to stay home or spend time on bed rest — they would love to be able to work and live without worrying about their health. For a chronically ill person, having to stay home or opt out of participating in things is often quite difficult and isolating.

7. Only old people get chronic illnesses.

While chronic illnesses are more common in people aged 55 and over, about half of all adults currently have a chronic condition and approximately 8% of children are living with a chronic disease or disability.

8. All chronic illness is preventable.

It’s never acceptable to blame someone for their chronic illness. Some chronic illnesses cannot be prevented and are not the result of anyone’s actions. Some chronic diseases are preventable or able to be delayed or alleviated with significant lifestyle changes. In many cases, chronic illnesses can be managed with treatment.

9. People with chronic illness can’t participate in regular activities.

It’s true that chronic illness can sometimes impact a person’s ability to participate in regular activities without any adjustments. However, quite often, with some adjustments or the proper medical equipment, people living with chronic illnesses can get back to their regular daily activities.

10. If you are diagnosed with a chronic illness, there’s nothing you can do.

There is often some kind of treatment for the chronic illness itself, or for the symptoms of the illness that can make living with that illness a little easier. This is why establishing a health care plan and having a solid, ongoing relationship with health care teams is so important.

11. Getting a chronic illness is never preventable.

Chronic illnesses are often the luck of the draw, but sometimes something can be done to help prevent the illness itself or its worst symptoms.

12. It’s just an exaggeration to get sympathy.

People with chronic illnesses experience serious symptoms and health challenges. Never underestimate the difficulty of living with chronic illness.

13. People with chronic illness only want to talk about their illness.

People with chronic illness want to talk about a lot of things! But sometimes, they may want to talk about their chronic illness, because it is a significant thing in their lives and affects how they live.

14. People with chronic illness never want to talk about their illness.

Sometimes, people with chronic illnesses might not want to talk about their illness because it can seem too all-consuming. It’s always a good idea to ask how a person is feeling, but let them lead the conversation when it comes to their chronic illness.

15. If someone is chronically ill, you should just leave them alone.

This misconception is all too common, leaving many people with chronic illness feeling alone and isolated. Rather than leaving them alone, check in regularly with friends or loved ones with chronic illnesses to make sure they know you’re there for them.

As with most complex subjects, misconceptions about chronic illness are based on a lack of information. The more people can learn about what it’s like to live with chronic illness, the less likely they are to believe misconceptions.

Getty image by Juergen Bauer Pictures.

Originally published: November 15, 2020
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