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Why You Shouldn't Judge Yourself When Writing Your Chronic Illness Story

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Every person leads a story with their life. Each day a page, each month a chapter. There’s the abridged version your friends and family see, and the full version, which belongs to you alone.

You can’t judge a book by it’s cover. That applies to people too. Most people in our lives only read the summary on the back cover. Close friends and family simply read the abridged version, claiming to understand the entire book. Even we don’t have the entire story, for we only see the finished book after it’s been reviewed and edited time and time again. It’s impossible for us to completely understand ourselves. We can’t see the original version, with all the factors and details that explain us and who we are. We can’t explain the way we think, we just know “this is how it is,” and how it’s always been.

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Don’t judge the full story by the abridged version. Don’t judge the full story without the footnotes and countless edited copies. We claim to know ourselves, but the reality is that we never completely do. We tell ourselves we certain be a certain way that we are, or think in the way we do, without knowing the story of why we are that way.

My junior prom was last weekend. For the people in attendance that do not know me well, perhaps it seemed like I was a stereotypical teenager obsessed with my phone. In reality, I was looking at my phone because I struggle with sensory sensitivities and I was having a stimulus overload. My phone simply provided a discreet way for me to temporarily escape, allowing me to center myself and catch my breath.

Last night I was wearing a t-shirt and on my right arm I had a full-length black sleeve with different colored paint splashes. Perhaps people assumed I was trying to make a statement, wearing some different thing for style. In reality, I was wearing the sleeve to cover and protect the IV in my elbow for my IVIG infusions that I get every three weeks.

You can’t judge a person without walking a mile in their shoes. But even if you walk five miles, even if you run the entire track, you still can’t completely understand. How often do you stop and think about yourself? What makes you the person you are? Who are you? I’m Christa. But that is not who I am, that is simply my name.

One of my favorite quotes says, “Always remember, you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and twice as beautiful as you have ever imagined.” We very rarely stop and think about the trials and circumstances we’ve gone through, or the situations that make us who we are. We take our lives as they come, reading the finished copy of the book, one sentence at a time. I don’t think twice about having an IV infusion every three weeks. To me, that is completely normal. I don’t take time to stop and think about how my chronic illness and circumstances in my life have affected me, how they’ve changed and shaped who I am. I do not look in the mirror and see a fighter; I simply see a smiling face I have come to know as myself. It takes someone close to us to recognize how all the chapters in our story affect each other, to recognize the traits that belong to us.

What about you? How often do you stop and think about what you’ve been through? How it’s shaped who you are? How often do you look at everything you’ve been through and give yourself the credit you deserve for embracing every hurdle life has thrown at you? Next time you’re feeling weak or insignificant, take a moment and think about everything in your life that you’ve walked right through, practically unscathed. Remember the grace you’ve retained as you’ve leaped over obstacles in your life. Think about how many people couldn’t handle everything you’ve handled, and certainly not with the grace and beauty you’ve retained through the process. Give yourself a little credit.

Stop judging your story without reading the footnotes or the other unedited versions. Stop ignoring every chapter you’ve already made it through as you’re living out this one. Don’t judge your story by the cover you see in the mirror, or anyone else’s story by the abridged version. You never know what footnotes you may have missed.

Maybe the girl in the back of the class isn’t back there because she doesn’t want to pay attention. Maybe this class is a challenge for her and she doesn’t want the attention drawn to her as people notice the tears silently rolling down her cheeks as she struggles trying desperately to understand, only to realize again and again she’s struggling to think. Maybe the kid standing silently in the corner of the room isn’t antisocial. Perhaps they are standing there silently, not because they don’t like anyone, but quite the opposite, perhaps they’re too afraid that no one else will like them.

You don’t know the full story of anyone else’s life, or even your own, so stop judging them as if you do. Take time to reread your previous chapters and give yourself a little credit, Don’t pretend to understand the full story when you’re only reading the back cover. You can never judge a book by it’s cover, so stop trying. Remember, you’re braver than you believe. Perhaps everyone else is too.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: July 8, 2016
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