The Mighty Logo

The Uncertainty That Comes With an Illness That's Chronic

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

We don’t talk enough about the word “chronic.” The word chronic is one of the scariest adjectives in the English language, in my humble opinion, particularly when it’s being applied in a medical context.

Merriam-Webster’s medical definition of chronic is “marked by long duration, by frequent recurrence over a long time, and often by slowly progressing seriousness; having a slow progressive course of indefinite duration — used especially of degenerative invasive diseases…”

No, it’s not a definite thing, with clearly defined borders, but I think the indefinite-ness is what’s particularly terrifying. I don’t think I know anyone that truly enjoys not knowing. People sometimes enjoy spontaneity, but I don’t know anyone that’s like, “Yeah, I think I’d really enjoy the spontaneity that comes with not knowing if I’ll be able to get out of bed from one day to the next!” I don’t think you can really even refer to that as “spontaneity.” It’s not a choice.

And you think about that word – chronic. And you realize that you have no idea how long this will last, or how quickly symptoms will progress… you don’t know. You realize that this could be forever. This could be how the rest of your life is. But there’s no way of knowing. How awful is that? It’s like torture.

There is so much dread and such a lack of closure. I think this is something that has a huge effect on me psychologically.

I live in a constant state of fear. I feel like people my age are excited when they think about their futures, and all I feel is anxiety, and quite frankly, terror. I can’t even think about it, for the sake of my psychological well being. I have to live from day-to-day. I can’t handle it.

It becomes too overwhelming. There are so many awful possibilities, and yet there’s always the chance that the chronic may come to an end. I don’t know which is worse for me to think about. The first is terrifying because those possibilities of decline are so realistic, much more so it seems than the second possibility, that this may all come to an end someday. An end is horrible to think about because it seems like such a dream, so unrealistic to desire it. It’s painful to want something you don’t really believe in your heart will ever happen.

It’s funny what words can do; how powerful they can be. I mean, it’s obviously not just the word “chronic” itself that’s made me feel so anxious and fearful that this will be forever, but the fact that I’ve lived with my symptoms every minute of every day for six years now, and they show no sign of improving. In fact, they continue to decline steadily.

But words have meaning, and they can play mind games. They are capable of instilling fear and creating uncertainty. Chronic is a word that is frequently glossed over that has great meaning; great power. People don’t realize the full impact of the “chronic” part of “chronic illness” on the chronically ill. The not knowing, the possibility that this could be forever, wondering what you would do, how you would continue living…it’s heart-wrenching.

People with chronic illnesses are truly warriors for facing the chronic uncertainty that comes with their everyday.

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

Gettyimage by: VladislavStarozhilov

Originally published: November 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