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The Snowball Effects of the Common Cold When You Live With Chronic Illness

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There are two polar-opposite personalities within my body. There’s the energetic, “anything is possible, never back down and go-go-go” Kristi. Then there’s the lethargic, down-in-the-dumps version who can’t find the motivation to make herself lunch.

I’m usually one or the other and rarely in between. But this past week and a half has been unusual. Without warning, I’ve found myself ping-ponging between my opposite sides. I started the week on a high. After using a prescribed medication to treat a sinus infection, my head felt lighter, my airways began to clear and I felt positive at the prospect of recovery. But as the week progressed, I’ve slowly been slipping into my unhappier version.

Having a cold for two weeks or more is not an unusual occurrence for me. Sadly, I’m more surprised when I make it a few months without contracting a two-week-long viral illness. But this time it’s been one thing after another; I’m past the point of frustration and exhaustion.

I can cope with having a cold. I can’t deal with the subsequent snowball effect.

Taking immunosuppressive medication means that a cold which should have been a mere annoyance wiped me out as if it were the flu. Within a week that cold became a hacking sinus infection. And the icing on the cake? The antibiotics prescribed to rid me of the sinus infection produced an unbearable case of thrush.

I could not seem to win.

I only needed to attend university for one day last week. But I couldn’t go, because on a freezing, rainy day I had a case of thrush so bad that I couldn’t stand to put on a pair of pants.

At my wits’ end, I dialed the number of an on-call nurse and bawled my little heart out.

Living life with a chronic illness, I sometimes become desensitized to my situation. I’m haunted by a fear that I’m overdramatic, that my experience isn’t worth someone else’s time. But sometimes explaining how I feel to a lovely nurse over the phone and having her validate my concerns is exactly what I need.

It took a call to a stranger for me to realize my feelings were valid and I wasn’t overreacting. That conversation allowed me to take a step back to remind myself that even if someone else didn’t validate my feelings, I am going through a lot and it’s OK to be overwhelmed. Some might even call it normal.

Every six months I get stuck in a rut like this one. It starts with being coughed on and next thing I know, I’m three weeks’ deep in the trenches of fighting off multiple complications from the common cold. When it’s one thing after the other for weeks on end, it’s understandable that I falter. I have the necessary mental and emotional breakdowns, then pick up the scattered pieces of myself and keep charging on.

Being strong is not about being an impenetrable wall of strength every moment of every day. Even concrete breaks when pounded continuously by a jackhammer. Strength is looking at a crappy situation and gathering everything within you to stand up one more time.


Getty photo by Monkey Business Images.

Originally published: July 4, 2019
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