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'Chasing Life' Perfectly Explains Why I Waited to Disclose My Illness

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A few years ago I came across a TV show called “Chasing Life” on Netflix. After reading the description of the show I was so excited to watch. The show centered around a 20-something-year-old woman named April. She was your ordinary college graduate working as an intern at a newspaper company.

We soon learn that her life was nowhere near ordinary when she is diagnosed with cancer. Initially, she only told her best friend. She intended to keep it this way for as long as she could. Suddenly, I found myself in April. She reminded me of myself when I was first diagnosed with my heart condition. For April, she did not want to tell her family because she knew they would become overprotective of her. She choose not to disclose her illness to her coworkers because she was being considered for a higher position, and did not want her boss to think that she was less qualified because of her illness. While watching this episode, I instantly thought about two reasons why I choose not to disclose my illness until later:

1. Normalcy

I wanted to keep a sense of normalcy while in high school. I did not want to be known for something that I had. For example, my senior year I used to wear flowers in my hair. Even if someone did not know me personally, I was referred to as, “Oh, the girl that always wears flowers in her hair.” It was associated with me because that is what I wore. I did not want to be known as the girl that has a heart condition, or the girl that was sick. Unfortunately, this is often the reality of people who live with an illness. Also, I certainly did not want any special treatment or for people to look at me like I was not human. I did not want pity from anyone. To me, this was just life. Life happens to everyone, and this was life happening to me.

2. Credibility

The second reason I choose not to disclose my condition is because I honestly did not think anyone would believe me. Not because I was not truthful, but because of the myth that I personally would like to debunk, “Well, you don’t look sick.” I find this statement misleading and certainly disappointing to the person that has an illness. It is as if you are dismissing their pain based on physical appearance. You know the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Yup. I feel as if that phrase was made specifically for people with chronic illness. I constantly thought that no one would find me credible because I looked just fine on the outside.

I can recall when my condition had worsened and I had to have surgery. I remember getting tons and tons of messages from people saying, “I did not know you were sick, you didn’t look sick at all.” I’ve learned not be offended by this statement, but this statement really made me think about how you never know when someone is going through something. From my observation, most of the time, people will not tell you about an illness because it is personal. I am always reminded to show grace because you do not know what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

So, be gentle with someone that might not tell you right away that they are sick. It is an extremely sensitive and personal journey for that person. When they do tell you, the best thing is not to try to solve their problems, but to simply show up and be there for them.

Image courtesy of the “Chasing Life” Facebook page

Originally published: April 27, 2018
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