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An Inside Look at the Life of a Functioning Sick Person

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I’m a functioning sick person. It isn’t by choice, but mostly out of necessity. You see, I didn’t choose to be sick. And if I had my choice today, I would remain in my bed with the covers pulled up over my head hiding from the world. But my alarm has gone off and it is time to get up.

The moment my alarm goes off and I reach to my nightstand to turn it off, I feel it…sick! My “sick” is chronic illness, an autoimmune disease called rheumatoid arthritis (RA). And I seem to have textbook RA – meaning my condition is worse in the morning. I drag myself out of bed and head for the shower. In the shower, I struggle to grip the soap, flip the lid of the shampoo, wash my face but somehow I make it. I would be lying if I said I don’t think about sitting on the floor of the shower and calling in sick to work. But I don’t sit down because I know I won’t be able to get back up. After the shower I have to lie down to rest, but not for too long because that will make me even later than I already know I will be for the day.

Monday through Friday I am forced to be a functioning sick person because I have to work. There are so many in my shoes that wake up daily to the reality of having to be a functioning sick person. We are forced into this life because many of us do not just need the income; we need the health insurance our jobs afford us. My husband’s schooling brought us to an expensive metropolitan area before I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. So, I need the income and the health insurance at this point.

My functioning life looks like I have it together. I sit at my desk, tackling rush assignments during the day, but not a moment goes by that I am not reminded that I am sick. My daily medications have to stay on schedule while I am functioning in the healthy world, which means that the water I bring to meetings is sometimes with me because I have pills in my pocket to take. And those “personal” calls I take during my workday are actually from the doctor’s office or the drug company nurse trying to plan my next visit or my medical care. I also have to plan out my workday on where my pain is falling on the scale for that particular day. A bad pain day means I need to keep many different windows open on my computer so I can print multiple documents at once and make one trip to the printer. But day after day, the functioning part of my life tries very hard to hide the sick part of my life.

The problem with being a functioning sick person is sometimes people forget that you actually are sick and expect you to walk as quickly as they do or be friendly on rough days. Everyone understands when a healthy person is not friendly on a given workday because they have a headache or hangover from the weekend-but I am “sick” day after day. On Fridays, while others are thinking about the weekend and Friday night fun, I am thinking about the injection I have to give myself after dinner and using the weekend to sleep off the side effects in order to be functioning by Monday morning.

Many in my shoes have had children, bought a house, started school, and entered a professional career field before their diagnosis. They understand that life doesn’t stand still because you get sick. Our sickness is chronic so we have to learn the best aspects for fitting our sick life into our functioning life.

To my fellow functioning sick people, let me say you are doing a great job! I know it is tough, I know people don’t fully understand how sick you are or the pain you feel because they only see the person you allow them to see – the functioning person. Being brave wasn’t an option or choice for us as each chronic illness warrior was forced into brave. But, you all wear brave beautifully!

So now you know my secret. I’m a functioning sick person. My life doesn’t stop for my illness, although sometimes it may need to slow down a bit. So while I may take a little longer in the morning to get ready, have to work an adjusted schedule because of medical appointments, or re-arrange leisure activities to fit in my injections, the reality is that I will continue to function because I have no choice.

Getty Image by Sorajack

Originally published: July 24, 2018
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