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Our Illnesses Are Not Our Fault

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Stop telling people their illness is their fault.

I repeat: Stop telling people their illness is their fault.

It’s not.

I see this all the time. From cancer to addiction, fibromyalgia to depression, diabetes to Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis to myalgic encephalomyelitis to post-traumatic stress disorder. But people are not choosing to be sick. We just are. And usually, nothing we did or didn’t do is at fault.

Sometimes we heal. We overcome our illness. With a mix of magic and medicine, community and circumstance, access to resources; whatever it takes to nourish us in the ways we need. We sustain.

And yet, other times, you can have all those things and still be sick. We can do everything “right,” but the outcome doesn’t change.

When that happens, we learn to live with them, until we don’t. We get by in each new day, accommodating the ways we can.

We live our lives not in spite of our illness, but rather knowing it is now an integrated part.

This doesn’t mean we failed or we weren’t doing the same things to help ourselves as someone else — we likely were. It just means they didn’t work.

Because there is no cure-all panacea that heals 100 percent of the time. What works for one might not work for another. And, as hard as that can be to face, that is the reality.

Some will continue to live with illness throughout the majority of their lives. It doesn’t mean we aren’t still trying, but our priority is to make ourselves as comfortable as possible as we do.

Humans get sick. It’s a part of life, and although not an easy part, it still is. I believe fear of our own mortality keeps us fighting to survive — an admirable and necessary evolutionary trait.

But I think it also has people clamoring to reason with the world, seeking to explain why those others may deserve to be sick, justifying it however they can to put their own minds at ease, and placing the responsibility on us, claiming it to be something we did to become this way.

I understand this tactic. It’s one that stems from fear. And that’s OK. I believe it’s a very human reaction.

After all, being able to contemplate one’s own mortality and see it coming may bring up a slew of existential crises and fear. Many cope by separating themselves and by scrutinizing the lives of others, comparing them to their own, grooming carefully over every detail.

If we make it appear to be something we control, I think some people believe maybe we can then avoid it, too. But illness does not discriminate. It can come for anyone at any time.

How a single body accumulates the effects and impacts of one life is different from one person to the next. It isn’t necessarily fair, and it doesn’t always make sense, but there is no single right way to live to ensure that illness never comes.

We simply find ways to cope and thrive within it when it does. We can find ways to make our lives more enjoyable and more meaningful. How that looks will be different for everyone.

Some days are harder than others, granted. But I aim for quality over quantity, because it’s not the length of life that counts — rather, the joy and meaning, love and community, all the change and connections and spaces we created, and collections of moments experienced within the time we had.

So here’s to all of us: all those who have been touched by illness in some way, those who fought and survived, and those of us who are still fighting today, too.

It’s not your fault you’re sick. It’s not any of ours. And I know you’re doing the best you can. This is for you, my friends.

I see you and I value the work of your struggle. I value how much effort it takes for you to be here every day. Your means of coping are valid because they help you to survive. And I love you.

Keep doing what you need to do. Your preservation of self is important. Take care to care take. And live however you can.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one phrase you wish people would stop saying about your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness? Why? What should they say instead? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: June 3, 2016
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