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When Illness Keeps Me From My Responsibilities

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It is Monday, and I am laying in bed feeling miserable. I have been sick for weeks on end. I am immunocompromised because of the chemo infusions I take for my autoimmune disease, so illness can come quickly and stay persistently. I came down with a sinus infection over the new year, that became an ear infection as well. I’ve been on antibiotics, but my sinus infection will no got away. Instead, it’s brought its friend pneumonia along. Finally, I am on the right medications with the right diagnosis, and I pray I am on the way to wellness soon.

In the meantime, I am once again forced to stay home to rest and get well. I am currently a graduate student, and my class is an internship. I have to have 500 hours of work done by May to graduate. Over the course of this degree, I have already had to do a medical withdrawal one semester, increasing the length of my degree from two years to three.

I am not missing work in the usual sense since because I am not paid. And fortunately, I am only in the third week of the semester, so I have time to make up hours. But it is my responsibility to be there and work hard. It is a responsibility I love and am happy to uphold. Except when I am physically unable to.

The people at my field placement are understanding and generous. Of course, they don’t want me to be working myself ragged when I have such a significant illness like pneumonia. But the guilt I feel is overwhelming. I have loved every minute I have been there, but I am acutely aware what my current absence may indicate as to my commitment. I am afraid it looks as though I am not committed, or do not want to be there. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Yet, I feel as though it is my fault I am absent, my fault I am sick, because it is my body betraying me.

I want to be a good and willing worker, student, friend and family member – but sometimes because of my health, I cannot be. I may seem perfectly fine, but there is always something going on, whether it’s fibromyalgia pain, a tension headache, anxiety over my doctor’s appointments and insurance, or a myriad of other issues I deal with regarding my health on a daily basis.

I wasn’t always so sick, so it’s difficult for me to accept this normal sometimes. It’s something I’ve learned to manage, and something my loved ones have learned to accept as well. But people who don’t know me, who are my teachers, co-workers, or acquaintances – they don’t know how difficult it is to be juggling all of this while trying to maintain a healthy and productive facade.

If you know someone with chronic illness, I urge you to reassure them when they cancel plans or are unable to maintain appointments and responsibilities that you know it is not their fault, that they cannot control it, and that you do not judge them for not being there. Let them know that you see they are trying their hardest to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle with the responsibilities expected of them. Let them know you forgive them their shortcomings and lend them a helping hand. You can never know what a difference it would make for you to pop by with a meal, help them run an errand or clean their house. Not every person with chronic illness is lucky enough to have people close to them who will step up when it comes to the daily responsibilities that can overwhelm us. Guilt is our constant companion. We are trying our best, and we only want you to see and appreciate that.

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Gettyimage by: Marjan_Apostolovic

Originally published: January 26, 2018
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