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Those of Us With Chronic Illness Could Use More Support

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Since being diagnosed with interstitial cystitis, endometriosis and pelvic floor dysfunction, along with depression and anxiety, I feel like most people have stopped seeing me. They seem to only see the disabled girl with chronic pain and diseases that have no cure.

When I am introduced to someone new, the words and phrases people use to describe me make me feel small. They make me feel like I am not doing enough to “make myself better.” When they talk about me, they only seem to see the endless stream of tests, doctors and surgeries. They now see me as the girl with chronic pain. And it makes me feel like I need to push myself harder, when in reality I already push myself beyond my limit every single day just to try and have a sliver of the life I once had.

My illnesses are not usually fatal, and sometimes it feels like if you are not in danger of actually dying, people don’t feel the need to use their own energy and resources to help you. This may sound harsh, but I am finding it to be more and more true. When most people hear that someone has a chronic illness they know it is most likely going to “drag on” forever. From my experience, it can be hard to get people to support you if you are going to live with your disease forever and if there is no cure.

People with chronic illness often face a lifetime of pain, exhaustion and disability. A lifetime of people telling them to get over it and they they are too depressing to be around, along with failing to meet everyone’s expectations. It is also hurtful how family and friends can’t seem to understand how we can be fine one minute and then the next we are curled up on the couch in pain.

I know for some of the best people I have ever met, those who have struggled with not having a diagnosis for years, finally having a name for their symptoms and illnesses is incredibly validating.

Once you finally have a name for what is “wrong” with you, it makes it much easier to treat, or at least manage your symptoms and pain. But along with the names of your illnesses and symptoms also comes judgment; at least it does in my life. Some people research your illness and learn at least a little about it so they can help you deal with the emotional part of it and be there for you.

But then there are those who search Google and find places that, for a one time payment can “cure” your disease — or this new medicine on the market with amazing reviews online for being natural, articles by people who have “cured themselves completely using ____,” or how thinking positive and talking about your feelings you can convince your body you don’t have an illness and can therefore “cure” yourself. But then they get upset when you don’t read all the “research” they did or do everything they think you should be doing, because the internet says it will help you.

I have only lived with my illnesses for five years. But in that time I have come across others in support groups and online forums who sometimes say they wish they had a condition people were more familiar with or took more seriously. Most chronic illnesses have no cures, only treatments, and some people just assume it will be the same thing every day, so why bother helping if it is going to be a never-ending process?

For me there are not any words on the planet to adequately explain how difficult it is to live with an illness that no one believes is real. For people to not understand how you can look fine and be smiling on the outside, but be hurting on the inside. For people to not understand how you can do a certain amount of things one day, then the next have no energy to do anything; sometimes even getting out of bed is a challenge. For people who can’t understand how you can be fine one minute then the next you are in severe pain.

Not to mention many of us have to come up with the money out of our own pocket to pay for a medication that may help a tiny bit or not at all.

We are people first. We are still human beings who have feelings. It’s hard when people have stopped seeing us as a person, but now see us as our illness or our symptoms. It is hurtful for many of us. We just want some understanding. Some support to know we are not alone. I could really use some support, as I am going through this difficult part of my life. I do everything I can to be supportive of family and friends, even if I don’t agree with their lifestyles or choices. Is it so hard to expect them to extend the same courtesy to me?

For those of us with chronic illnesses, many people come to the conclusion that we are different, and we will never be like them because we have a different life then they do. Many people assume we will never want to hang out because we hurt all the time. So they stop asking us to go out places. They stop calling.

We fight every day just to get out of bed, while many others take the little things for granted. Many people think that because life is the way it is for them, it will always stay that way. They never think of what would happen if all the things they were used to suddenly weren’t around anymore. They are used to going places all the time, feeling healthy, being able to go on long road trips, go to bars, have a “normal life,” have a relationship. Not have to worry about every minute of every day and how it will affect you and your ability to do even the simple things.

My name is Karley and I live with chronic illness. I am a person first and foremost. I have a name, and I am more than my symptoms. I refuse to let my illness control my life and how people see me. I am doing the very best that I can with what I’ve got.

Getty image by Olha_Kostiuk

Originally published: March 2, 2020
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