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The Problem With Making Illnesses the Butt of a Joke

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“Well, you may have this disease, but I am allergic to people’s nonsense.”

I did not know how to process this statement, or how to respond to such an ableist comment. It is difficult enough to live with chronic illness, let alone live in a world that is not accepting of disabilities and chronic illness.

That comment from one of my colleagues on my first day of work after being on six months of bed rest came as a shock. And made me feel disgusted. It was a very strong indicator of how my time as a resident assistant at a foreign language program would go. We were discussing our concerns for our month of employment, and I expressed concern about how I could manage my vasculitis while working 80 hour weeks. This person claimed this was a joke, but it felt differently to me.

Worst case scenario, this person thought I was completely making up that I had a chronic illness because:

1. She had never heard of vasculitis.

2. I appeared to be “healthy.”

Many of us with chronic illness have to spend a lot of emotional labor convincing others that we’re sick or how symptoms affect us if those symptoms are not clearly visible.

At a basic level, my illness or anyone else’s should not be the butt of anyone’s joke. While I wish that I did not have to have had this experience at all, it made me reflect on ways people without chronic illnesses could be more inclusive of those of us with chronic illnesses.

1. Do not make me prove to you how much my illness affects me. I am happy that my vasculitis does not alter my physical appearance all the time. No, this does not mean I do not have “invisible” symptoms most of the time. Please don’t question the severity of my illness because you cannot “see” it.

2. If you are going to joke about chronic illness as an able-bodied person, don’t. You haven’t lived in my body. Fine, maybe your aunt says it’s fine because she’s a person with a chronic illness, but she does not speak for everyone.

3. Try to put yourself in my shoes before commenting on my illness. Empathy and compassion go a long way, in my opinion. If you are going to comment on my chronic illness, please consider how I would feel.

We live in an ableist world, and we all should play our part in making people with chronic illnesses and disabilities feel more accepted, and this includes with the jokes we make.

Getty Image by utkamandarinka

Originally published: July 24, 2018
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