A Note on Chronic Illness

Chronic illness sucks.

I think that goes without saying. Near constant aches and pains. Having to take numerous sick days (which aren’t nearly as fun as the ones you had as a child skipping school. No work and no pay makes Jack a broke boy.) Frequently cancelling plans because of flaring symptoms. The way just cleaning the house feels like a hike up Mount Everest.

One of the things about chronic illness is that it is tiring. (The phrase, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” comes to mind.) But it isn’t just tiring for the person suffering from the illness, it’s tiring for those around the person suffering from chronic illness.

See, it’s one thing if you come down with pneumonia or mono or some rare, exotic kind of bird flu that causes you to squawk uncontrollably for a month or so. People are generally sympathetic and offer their kindness, concern, and understanding when you can’t attend so-and-so’ party, or have to skip out on dinner, and generously overlook your incessant squawking. In these cases, the illness is temporary and once it’s over, life can go on as before and you are free to resume your usual social activities. There’s the expectation from those around you that yes, you are sickĀ for now, but you won’t be later.

But what about the illnesses that don’t go away? The ones that linger over years, often worsening. The kinds of illnesses that are managed not cured. Enter chronic illness.

When you first get sick people are sympathetic, kind, patient, etc., at first. But when your illness doesn’t just up and go away, you find things begin to change. After a while people stop inviting you to things on the count of your frequent cancellations. You find your social circles no longer really seem to include you. And it’s not like it’s out of malice or anything. It’s just that people tend to feel like a third wheel. Your illness is almost its own entity, it’s there front and center when you can barely climb a flight of stairs without gasping for breath. It’s there when you hardly eat anything at dinner because your nausea decided to make yet another appearance. It’s there when you have to sit out most physical activities. Your illness just hangs there in the center of the room, the elephant no one wants to talk about when you’re there and everyone just feels uncomfortable. Things are easier when you’re not there.

Chronic illness is uncomfortable. It’s inconvenient. It’s tiring. Sometimes, it’s lonesome.

But it isn’t all bleak. There are good days for the bad days where your bed is your only safe haven. You learn that some friendships have expiration dates, and that’s okay. Some friendships you’ll find are long-lasting. The ones who don’t shy away from your illness or think it becomes you, who set a place for it at the table, even if it doesn’t eat.

And though I do enjoy being in pleasant company every now and again, I find I take pleasure in my own company these days. My quiet walks, sunning by my window, reading until I don’t know what day it is anymore. I can enjoy being alone without feeling alone. It wasn’t always like that.

If anything, chronic illness has made me more appreciative of the little things in life. Enjoying a good meal, conquering a flight of stairs without breaking a sweat, stay-at-home socks. Rainy days. Making the perfect cup of tea, the first time.

Chronic illness has its shares of ups and downs, (plenty of downs) but the downs make the ups even more enjoyable. And the ups make the downs that much more bearable.

And hell, it leaves you plenty of time to write.

-M

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