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How Chronic Illness Makes Me Feel Like an Egg

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A chunk of steel. A chain made of iron. A massive ancient oak tree. A rock. All of those are examples of strength similes.

When you’re faced with serious medical conditions, you may find that what I call “strength similes” – of which I’m not a big fan when used by others – come flying at you from every direction. You’re not just told you’re a strong person. You are told you are the strongest of the strong.

I don’t mind thinking of others and myself in similar situations in such terms because I know the truth of them. The truth is that supposedly unbendable steel does bend with enough applied pressure. A chain made of iron can be broken. A massive ancient oak tree can lose branches and become scarred or even be uprooted and fall over if the fury of a storm is severe enough. A rock can be broken.

Do you remember the egg experiment that just about every single one of us at some point in our school careers did? I did the egg experiment in middle school. For those of you who didn’t partake in the egg experiment or can’t quite bring it to mind I’ll give you the quick rundown.

The basic idea is that you are given an egg and told to design and build a system that will protect the egg when it is dropped from various heights. Eggs that are smashed or cracked in any way fail the test while the eggs that remain unscathed pass.

I like to think of people like myself as eggs, as silly as that may seem, when most, as I said, would call us rocks or something far less delicate than an egg. The truth, however, is that we are delicate, and I don’t mean that in a condescending way. To use myself as an example…

To most people who know my story, I am the epitome of strength to have gone through so much and still be here fighting. What I am, though, is an egg. Yes, I do indeed have a hard outer shell. I have to. It’s what helps insulate me from the negative swirling around me every day. It’s what helps to protect me from damage that can be done and has been done by infections, surgery, multiple sclerosis, depression, PTSD and more.

That shell, though, can and does break. Things happen and my shell breaks and the yolk – my emotions – start seeping out. I get angry. I get sad. I cry, scream and yell. I have those dark moments when I think death would be better than what I’ve got now.

People ask me how I manage to not stay broken and the answer comes back to the egg experiment. The system that protects the egg when it is dropped from various heights is my support system of family, friends, nurses, doctors, neighbors and even people I’ve never met who know of me through someone else. They form that barrier that keeps me from shattering on impact, and unlike Humpty Dumpty who couldn’t be put back together again, thanks to my support system I can be.

No man is an island. When a person is seriously sick or injured, it affects everyone around them.  It isn’t just that one singular person who is sick and drained and hurting. Every person who loves them and cares about them is also sick, drained and hurting. It’s not the same and it can never be the same but still everyone is affected.

I know that when I feel my outer shell cracking I can turn to any number of people for comfort and support. I write rambling emails to my uncle in the middle of the night. I text or call a friend. I text or call my sister. I find my parents. All of them together help put me back together and reseal my shell so I can continue fighting. I can continue being dropped from various heights knowing that when I hit the ground I’m going to be OK.

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Thinkstock photo via AtnoYdur.

Originally published: November 10, 2017
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