I’ve been living with a chronic illness all my life and with a diagnosis for about 10 years. Those living with chronic illness learn how to fight battles every single day without attracting attention. We learn to keep trudging along our daily lives with a smile on our faces because people don’t want to hear about the gritty details of why the answer to “how are you?” is not “good.” And we don’t want the bad kind of attention.
The attention that comes in the form of judgment and pity.
We don’t want pity. We don’t want the big eyes of sadness and misunderstanding. Most people I’ve met with chronic illness don’t feel bad for themselves. Yes, there are moments where our lives totally suck and there are phases when we want the illness to go away more than anything else in the world. For the majority of the time, however, those suffering with chronic illness have learned to live with the reality of daily discomfort or pain.
The exhibition of this looks different for each person, but there is a common resolution to keep going–at least that’s what I’ve found in my short life experience.
Because of this, chronics are seen through the facade they portray–healthy, strong, and just plain old okay.
The gravity of this hit me this week. I’m currently seven and a half months pregnant. I get told all the time that I “look great!” And “are you really that far along?”
First off–thanks! I’m glad that I’m looking good in the yoga pants and button down shirt that I’m rocking today because real pants just aren’t going to happen. And yes, I am that far along. I’m a small(ish) person, so I’m not surprised my baby isn’t ginormous. I feel like a blimp, though.
Frankly, of course I look great. I don’t mean that in a “I know I’m fabulous! Shield your eyes from my glorious complexion and bow down to my beautifully curvaceous body carved by the gods.” I mean that I am good on putting the happy face when I need to. I’m used to hiding the fact that I don’t feel well. I don’t find joy or satisfaction in parading around the fact that I am feeling the full force of the third trimester life, so I’m not going to talk about it unless probed. So yes, I have all the symptoms of third trimester pregnancy, but I don’t talk about them or necessarily show it on my face.
Because I don’t want the pity. I don’t want the big eyes of sadness and misunderstanding.
At the same time, don’t assume that I’m okay or good. We all learned the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but we seem to forget that it is a completely legitimate metaphor for people. While I look completely normal, I’m currently trying to ignore all the spasms and pain throughout my body. But this is my new normal. This is my new good. It’s all relative.
For my fellow chronics (or preggos), find comfort in that you are not alone! May our trudging turn into determined steps evolving into victorious leaps. Our circumstances do not own us.
To our loved ones, please recognize our daily reality of struggling with physical distress and our perception. Please don’t assume how we are feeling. If you genuinely want to know, maybe phrase the question-turned-greeting of, “how are you” as “how are you feeling today? How is x, y, or z going?” Little things like this mean the world.