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The Judgment and Scrutiny You Face When Living With Chronic Illness

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Judgment. Scrutiny.

Those words immediately evoke feelings of negativity. Living with chronic illness can be negative and difficult in itself, but have you ever stopped to think that almost every person battling a chronic illness also gets “insult added to injury” (literally) by being judged and scrutinized in everything they do? What they post on social media, every choice they make, every event they attend or don’t attend, everything they eat and every purchase they make? Yes. This is a huge part of living with chronic illness.

Can you imagine struggling with a condition and all of a sudden even “normal” activities and decisions come under the watchful and judgmental eye of everyone you know?


What do I mean?

Example: “Shelley” has chronic Lyme. All her friends and family know this. They know treatments are expensive and Shelley spends a lot of time at the doctor. Shelley also says no to a lot of family functions and activities with friends. Shelley also shares her struggles on social media and everyone knows she is struggling financially as well due to all her medical expenses. Some of Shelley’s family members are very negative; they knew Shelley when she was active and vibrant and can’t understand how this sickness seems to go on and on without end. They think her posts about illness are attention-getting and that Shelley is needy, especially being that she is single and they think therefore she is trying to get sympathy. Some of them let her know and express their anger. Some of them no longer speak to her at all.

Shelley also feels like she can’t win when it comes to socializing…

When Shelley says “no” to an event or dinner (or has to leave early or rest in the middle):

People think Shelley is being a drama queen again, or lazy, or being anti-social, etc.

“She always says ‘no,’ so why bother asking.”

“She is so self-absorbed with her problems. If she just got out more and acted normal she would feel better.”

“Sickness has become Shelley’s identity. If she just stopped owning it she wouldn’t be so sick.”

“Shelley is not as sick as she thinks she is. Lyme is an excuse.”

“Shelley has some kind of social issue and is using sickness as an excuse.”

“There she goes again, lying on the couch in the middle of a party. Apparently she wasn’t getting enough attention…”

When Shelley says “yes” to an event or dinner, people think:

“How can she be sick in bed yesterday and out looking normal today?”

“She is such a liar, she said she couldn’t go out this morning and there she is tonight out with friends.”

“She must be getting better, finally this Lyme thing is going away.”

“You look good! You look healthy – you must be better.”

“How can she afford to go out when she was just posting her Gofundme yesterday?”

“All this posting on social media about being sick, and yet when I see her she looks fine.”

“Should she be eating that?”

You see, I am Shelley. If you are ill and reading this, you are Shelley. And I know dozens and dozens of Shelleys who have the same experiences.

photo of woman out at night and photo of her the next morning in bed

Most people don’t think twice about going out to eat, taking vacations, hanging with friends, going to movies, buying a pair of shoes…

But when you deal with chronic illness, things are a little different. Have you ever considered how much judgment someone who is sick receives? And this is on top of all the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and financial struggling.

That’s why I write. Because most judgment comes from naivety and simply not understanding.

I have to think deeply before I post anything regarding my illness: TMI? Who’s my audience? Sharing info with fellow Lymies versus relatives who are going to roll their eyes at another health post?

Am I going to get negative backlash?

Are people going to get the wrong idea?

I also think twice before I post anything about going out, being with friends or anything that has to do with spending money…

You see, many people can buy new shoes if they need them without a second thought. But if I do I have to assess who might judge me knowing I struggle financially. See what I mean? And I also don’t want to hurt that friend I said no to yesterday when I felt super fatigued when they see me out with someone today because I rested and feel a little better.

I also struggle with guilt and and moral questions whenever I do something fun or spend a little money. Am I “allowed” to have fun? Can I justify a purchase for myself? Even though I am not by any means extravagant (I rarely go shopping, buy clothes and almost never eat out), I feel funny when I do and feel I have to answer for myself to everyone I know.


This isn’t a perfect essay, and I didn’t touch on a lot (including judgment and negativity from the mainstream medical community that doesn’t understand certain chronic illnesses), but there are tons of bloggers out there and they are doing a great job being a voice for this community. All we can do is try our best, and have an extra dose of grace as we raise awareness to those who would judge us.

(Please note that this essay is on the topic of judgment and scrutiny – there are a lot of kind and understanding people who do take the time to learn, ask questions, talk and give support. Thank you all my friends and family who fall in this category.)

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Originally published: September 28, 2017
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