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15 Infuriating Examples of Chronic Illness-Shaming That Should Never Happen

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When you have an illness that can’t be seen or easily (if at all) cured, that unfortunately means all too often you face skepticism and disbelief from others. So many able-bodied and healthy people don’t realize you don’t have to “look sick” to be sick — and that can lead to comments and questions that imply you’re “faking” when nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, many people with chronic illnesses can think of at least one time they were shamed or judged because of their illness. And no one should have to deal with that on top of their medical challenges.

By speaking out and sharing your stories, hopefully we can begin to educate the general public about chronic illnesses and show them exactly what kinds of judgment and shame chronically ill people face every day. So we asked our Mighty community to share examples of times they were shamed for their illness. When the chronic illness community asks for more understanding and empathy towards chronic illness, these are the micro-aggressions and discrimination we shouldn’t see anymore. This is what we’re fighting to end.

These stories shouldn’t be the end of the conversation. Let us know in the comments below, or by submitting your story to us, how you’ve experienced illness-shaming and your ideas for solving this issue.

Here’s what our community told us:

1. “In my first week back to university following the formation of an end colostomy, a member of staff told me I was unable to use a disabled toilet, to which I lifted my T-shirt to reveal my bag and responded with, ‘Just because you can’t see anything wrong with me doesn’t mean there’s nothing there.’” — Amy G.

2. “I was asked to leave [a store] because backpacks are not allowed. I explained and showed them that my backpack was in fact my feeding tube and machinery. They didn’t care, rules were rules. They put their hands on my upper arms and physically escorted me out.” — Kelly S.

3. “I was a straight-A student in college, I took a full load of classes while volunteering as an in-class aid for other students with disabilities. I was also a student teacher and did various projects that brought free astronomy education access to students. I was as involved as involved can be. One semester I had to miss a lot of school due to my illness so my teachers worked with me to be able to do some work from home when I couldn’t attend class. I kept up my 4.0 even when hospitalized and had better test scores than anyone in my class. Suddenly, I had my financial aid revoked by [financial aid services] because I wasn’t in class enough to fit their guidelines. My teachers, doctors and the dean wrote letters on my behalf to keep my financial aid, stating I was an integral part of my campus and that my grades had not faltered, that I deserved to stay. My financial aid was still revoked and I was blocked from enrolling at the college next semester. I was devastated and have as a result not been able to finish my degree that I worked so hard for.” — Jill B.

4. “My physics professor brought me into the office to tell me I need to adjust my expectations of what I will be able to achieve in life because ‘people like me’ aren’t meant to reach the same caliber of success.” — Hayley R.

5. “I had just parked in a [disabled] parking spot. I was still having to use my walker because I was a few months out from spinal fusion surgery and was actually still wearing a back brace. A woman in the grocery store parking lot came up to me and started screaming at me that, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you, you know you stole your grandma’s handicap tag because you’re just fat and lazy and don’t want to have to walk.’ I tried telling her that I had to use a walker and she said, ‘Well your legs ain’t broke!’” — Kathryn M.

6. “I went to the emergency room because of a severe headache, and the first thing the ER doc said to me was, ‘You sure do come to the emergency room a lot.’ I replied, ‘I have a lot of chronic illnesses and health issues,’ to which he replied, ‘I’m not giving you narcotics, I’m not going to contribute to the abuse of narcotics. You need to go home and take an over the counter anti-inflammatory.’ I never even asked for narcotics. I knew I needed IV fluids because my headaches were so severe I couldn’t keep anything down. He was so callous and dismissed me, he wouldn’t even give me fluids. I thankfully was able to get in with a neurologist in the next few days and was diagnosed with occipital neuralgia, a very painful headache condition in which the nerves in my C2 spine had been compressed because of hypermobility in my neck caused by Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.” — Kathryn M.

7. “My apartment complex kept delaying for over a year to get me and my service dog moved in. We had to redo countless paperwork and every time they told me I was good to go, I’d get there and it would either be, ‘Oh, someone else had an appointment, you need to reschedule’ or ‘There’s some paperwork here that didn’t get done/was done wrong. We can’t move you in.’ A two-week process ended up taking 14 months until I finally made a complaint with the government and filed a discrimination report.” — Emberley B.

8. “My husband’s sister tried to talk him out of marrying me because of my illness. He has been with me since before my diagnosis, so he has been on this journey with me. She tried to convince him to back out because ‘what kind of life’ would he have. We’re celebrating five years in August.” — Liz M.

9.I use a wheelchair and last summer, I was on my way to meet with a friend when a stranger walking towards me yelled at me, ‘I hope you don’t have any children!’ His tone was mean, and before I had a chance to reply he had walked past me. I was angry and even if I had had a chance to reply I have no clue what I would have or should have said…” — Maarit B.

10. “I had a nurse practitioner shame me for my chronic pain and weight. I used to love running. I was never very good at it, but I enjoyed it. The whole appointment she shamed me about my weight and not working out. I was so upset and mad! You think I wouldn’t like to go out and go running or even a walk in the woods!? All I could think was I’m in pain all the time. How do you expect me to do that? She said I was using my diagnosis of fibromyalgia as an excuse. I never went back to see her!” — Jenny J.

11. “A doctor told me before I had a diagnose that people like me are a big cost to the taxpayers and society. She also said it was all in my head and that I should get a psyche consult.” — Erika N.

12. “My aunt at some point had told my mother that there was no way that I was as sick as I said I was. She insisted that either I was lying or that God was punishing me with sickness because I had horribly sinned. Needless to say, my aunt and I don’t speak anymore.” — Mikki I.

13. “I have have stage 4 endometriosis and I took a doctor’s note to my boss, putting me on light duties. I tried to explain when she wanted to fire me for always being sick. She told me, ‘Maybe your abdominal pain would get better if you did some sit-ups.’” — Connie C.

14. “I have a new superpower — invisibility. Using a power chair now. Was at a sporting event, which took every ounce of energy I had. Trying to navigate the crowd was next to impossible. No one would let me through. People would just cut in front of me, etc. and it goes as fast if not faster than average walking. Unbelievable.” — Patty L.

15. “The other day I was being fitted for a wheelchair. The two OTs wanted to see if I could lift it into the car. So I pushed myself up the street to my car. My two neighbors came out and started staring at me. All I could hear from them was ‘but she can walk!’” — Caitriona G.

15 Infuriating Examples of Chronic Illness-Shaming That Should Never Happen
Originally published: June 26, 2017
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