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When You Ask People Living With Chronic Illness, 'What's Your Excuse?'

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Living in this era of booming health and fitness, my Instagram and Facebook feeds are full of workout videos, fitspo selfies, and motivational posts. To me, physical exercise is just another form of medicine. When I spend money on exercise, I view it as an investment in my health for the future. However, there is a certain type of post that I struggle with, and they all end by posing the same question: “What’s your excuse?”

I really struggle with reconciling my feelings toward this type of question because I’m regularly on both sides of the equation. I know what it feels like to be on the top of your game, full of energy, fit and healthy, loving life, and living it to the full. But I also know what it feels like when even the act of existing is outright exhausting. And this year, I’ve been in both states of being within a month of each other.

The thing is that when I’m not feeling at my peak physical health, I don’t have an excuse — I have a reason. No one needs to tell me how much better and more accomplished I’d feel if I took off my sweats, got my butt off the couch, and got motivated — trust me, I already know! Sometimes it’s not just about finding the motivation; it’s about finding the energy even to start searching for that motivation. Unfortunately, I’m fresh out of that.

Having spent the better part of a month in a hole of fatigue, I’ll be the first to tell you just how sick I am of sitting on the couch and taking naps. Hang on, that sounds fun to most people. What am I complaining about, right? Well, it’d be different if I’d taken up residence on the couch because I wanted to, but unfortunately, I’ve been here because I just don’t have the energy to be anywhere else.

Asking someone who’s chronically ill “what their excuse is” implies laziness, and really, it’s anything but. Last Friday, I had three things on the to-do list for my post-work afternoon: read and annotate university readings, drop a résumé off for a potential job, and start a column. Of the three items on my list, only one of them got accomplished. Few people know what it’s like to have fatigue to the point where you can’t even motivate yourself to start three tasks. I’m not talking about finishing, but rather starting them at all. I’m not lazy, I am trying, but I’m also fatigued like you wouldn’t believe.

It’s so easy to ask everyone else what their excuse is once you’ve already climbed the ladder of hardship and jumped all the hurdles. Do you know what it’s like to climb to the very top of the ladder only to fall off the highest rung? It’s not as easy as bouncing back from just a step or two lower, it’s starting all over again — not from the bottom rung, but from ground level.

Right now, I don’t need criticism. I struggle enough with my fatigue, both physically and mentally. I need consistent and gentle encouragement and support. I need you to try to understand that my problem is not linear or easily managed. I need you to know that although it doesn’t look like it, underneath this sleepy exterior is someone who’s dying to be energetic and full of life again, but it’s going to be a long way back to the top.

Not everyone has an excuse. Some of us have reasons — and darn good ones at that!

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

This post originally appeared in Kristiana Page’s column, “The Girl Who Cried Wolf,” on Lupus News Today.

Originally published: September 20, 2018
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