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5 Words That Have Different Meanings When You're Chronically Ill

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Did anyone else complete “Wordly Wise” workbooks in elementary school, or page through the dictionary? Well, I did: ace vocabulary test-taker in this corner. I’m all about choosing the perfect words, using them as sharp communication tools, and sprinkling in a little creative license. Years after my first chronic illness diagnosis, I seem to be using more of the creative license than ever. Old, simple words have dual meanings now. I’m not referring to their exact dictionary meanings, but the definitions that I’ve come to associate with words through life experiences.

There’s a sort of lingo that often comes with managing a chronic illness, growing alongside the list of symptoms. When I chat with healthy friends, my words don’t always “click” in their mind. Conversely, friends with chronic illnesses “get it” and use the same lingo to describe their situations.

Here are five of those double-sided words, with “Healthy Pal” (HP) and “Sick Pal” (SP) meanings…

1. Sick

HP: You’re entitled to stay home from school or work for a few days, and you may take a Tylenol. All of your Facebook friends will heard about it and respond with sad-face emojis.

: You have to accept that you’ll never get well, and your calendar fills up with medical appointments. Social media is tricky because people might get tired of hearing about your health.

2. Journey

HP: A long trip, perhaps a family road trip or flight with scenic views. The beginning and end are usually defined.

SP: An overused, yet appropriate, term used to describe your health situation. It might have no defined beginning, and it’s lifelong.


3. Fight

HP: A term associated with violence and aggression, of both the physical and verbal variety. One way or another, there’s generally a resolution.

SP: Something people tell you to do when you express the difficulties of your health situation, although maybe you’d rather just hear some evidence of understanding. Also used to describe the situation, much like “journey,” also there’s no neat resolution.

4. Pace

HP: Something you do or set while running a race, or walking alongside elderly relatives.

SP: An important, yet super tricky, part of managing your limited energy and abundant symptoms in order to complete activities. It frequently involves saying “no” and resting in preparation for the next day’s obligations, but it’s not 100 percent effective.

5. Love

HP: The glue of mushy relationships and your pet’s loyalty (OK, food has a role there). This word is thrown around, and you hear it endlessly in pop songs.

SP: The astounding thing that overcomes a lifetime of exhausting days, pain, canceled trips, and frustrations. It has the power to improve your situation, and may strengthen through each trial.

Everyone has their own, slightly varied meaning for each word. Those examples simply illustrate my personal understandings. When I talk to healthy friends, who seem to lead “normal” lives (whatever that means), I try to remember that their vocabulary is not the same as mine anymore. The vernacular of chronic illness is highly descriptive, unflinching, and rather beautiful in its vulnerability. Maybe I’ll create a lengthy guide someday, but for now, I need a nap.

Follow this journey on Maria Gracefully

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Thinkstock photo by Kubkoo

Originally published: June 15, 2017
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