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I Didn't 'Overcome' My Chronic Illness

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People (often able-bodied people) like to talk about “overcoming” chronic illness. Let’s get one thing straight, I didn’t “overcome” anything. I’m still sick and I’m always going to be. Even in times when I seem healthy or some of my illnesses are in remission, I’m still symptomatic and I still have to spend a crap ton of my time maintaining the others and dealing with the aftermath of the bad times. I still have flares. I still have bad days. And being chronically ill is still a huge part of my identity.

So no, I didn’t overcome anything.

There’s this bullshit idea that when you get sick you need to go away and get better in private, then come back to your life after you’re better. Or if you’re going to get better publicly, you need to be as inspiring and positive as possible. Either way, you’re expected to overcome your illness before you can go back to living your life.

But that’s not how being chronically ill works. For so many people, there is no getting “better.” And even for those who do, their life still never goes back to how it was before they were sick. They still spend the rest of their lives managing their illness to prevent it from getting really bad again.

But hey, at least it’s happening for a reason, right? At least it’s supposedly making me stronger and apparently I’ll find my purpose from it. After all, I wouldn’t have ended up with this if I wasn’t strong enough to handle it. And besides, who cares how bad it gets because it’ll make a good inspirational story one day.

That’s the kind of toxic positivity chronically ill are often told to justify the pain, trauma, gaslighting, neglect, loss, and anything else that comes from dealing with an illness long term. At least it’ll make a good inspirational story, but only if you’re positive about it and can find a way to “overcome it.”

This idea that illness is something that needs to be overcome is such a toxic mindset. Expecting someone to overcome their chronic, fluctuating, most likely incurable illness is asking a lot from someone already dealing with a lot.

Instead, it is time to make it OK to be sick and living. To be in pain and working. To be in treatment and out there experiencing life. To be managing a fluctuating illness and an acting career.

When over 40 percent of the population is living with at least one chronic illness, it’s time to normalize and accommodate it. It’s time to make the world accessible. And it’s especially time to stop calling meeting someone’s access needs giving them “special treatment” when you know if you were in the same boat you’d expect it to be done for you.

Please stop expecting people to overcome their illness. Instead, try overcoming the toxic, ableist voice in your head telling you that illness needs to be overcome in the first place.

This story originally appeared on Chronically Overdramatic.

Getty art by FRImages.

Originally published: May 24, 2020
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