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When I Catch an Illness, It's On Top of My Chronic Illness

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When the average person gets ill – catches a cold,  a sickness bug, virus etc. – it can feel rubbish enough. Having to take a day or two off work, cancel plans with friends or family and put up with a messy house is all part and parcel of being ill. Everyone gets ill from time to time, even those with the best immune system.

But what is it like for those of us who already live with a chronic illness? 

When someone already lives with a health condition (or possibly multiple) that causes symptoms such as heavy fatigue, muscle pain, insomnia, etc., catching a cold, virus or bug can not only introduce new symptoms, such as sickness, diarrhea, fever and chills for example, but it can generally worsen preexisting ones, too.


For many of us living with a chronic health condition, our bodies aren’t as strong as an average person’s and they already struggle to function as they should – hence the medical condition/s we have, so they often take the blow of a cold, virus or stomach bug harder than a healthier person.

This can be especially true for those of us with a not-so-good immune system, such as those with an autoimmune health condition (like myself, with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune thyroid disease). My immune system has already mistaken an organ, my thyroid gland, for an invader and is obsessed with trying to destroy it, so I guess you could say it’s preoccupied. Therefore, when I come down with a cold, bug or virus, which I seem to catch fairly easily, I tend to come down with it worse than my healthier other half or colleagues at work and I take much longer to recover from it. My body is already struggling and somewhat fragile, and catching an illness is just too much for it.

When I say I come down worse with the illness, I mean that symptoms tend to be rather severe compared to other people’s experiences. My chronic health condition, something I will live with for the rest of my life, already gives me some degree of fatigue, muscle weakness, pain and sleeping difficulty among other symptoms, but it’s as if these get amplified when I contract an illness. I may get sickness added on top or a bad cough and sore throat, but I feel extra hypothyroid and my body slows down until it comes to a halt. I become bed-bound and need assistance moving around. And I may be like this for a solid week, just from a cold that other people may be able to work through and carry on as normal with.

Whereas a regular person may need just a day or two at home to recover, I tend to need at least double and I can still be reeling from the effects of it weeks later. My body doesn’t “bounce back.” It’s another issue my already not-so-great body and immune system have to deal with.

If you hired someone to fit you a new kitchen and they were doing a rubbish job, instead getting confused and flustered and deciding to knock your bathroom down instead, would you give them another job? Ask them to also fit you a fireplace in the living room? That’s the best analogy I can give about my immune system. The cold, virus or bug I catch is just like the fireplace. It’s another job my immune system, which is already doing a bad job, is given to do. And so what do you expect to happen? My body responds in a poor way.

I just want you to be aware that for those of us who live with a chronic health condition, when we get ill, it’s on top of the other health stuff we’re battling and it’s different to a healthy person’s experience. It’s more intense, it’s more draining, it’s frustrating and we can’t help it.

Follow this journey on The Invisible Hypothyroidism

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Thinkstock photo via monkeybusinessimages.

Originally published: June 15, 2017
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