Chronic Illness and Hypochondria ~ by Sam

I decided to tackle this issue today, because it hits very close to home (right smack in the middle of it, actually), and causes a great deal of stress.  Since we talk about strategies for lowering stress in our daily lives, let’s talk about a major contributing factor: chronic illness.  I am chronically ill.  I have fibromyalgia, IBS, Raynaud’s disease, asthma and an assortment of allergies (food and environmental).  My bones are weak, and I am hypermobile (which isn’t really a problem in and of itself, but does leave me prone to injury).  I seem to excel at injuring myself.  (Interesting note: people who have fibromyalgia tend to be more prone to injury, so I am not alone.)  In my life, I have had an assortment of broken bones, sprains, a partial ACL tear, a Type III tear of the Medial Meniscus, and, currently, I seem to have ruptured a tendon in the top of my foot.  I don’t “think” I am sick.  I don’t take my illnesses and injuries too seriously.  I really am sick and prone to injury.  I don’t get bumps and bruises; I get torn ligaments.  It’s different.

Oh, and I have panic attacks.  Hell, wouldn’t you?

But, I am not writing this to say, “Oh, woe is me!” and I am not writing it for myself.  I am writing for the thousands of other people who suffer through chronic illness.  I am writing this because there seems to be a great deal of misconception when it comes to chronic illness.  Some of these illnesses are “invisible,” meaning, when you see me on a daily basis, I don’t look “sick.”  So, it’s hard for people to remember (or believe) that I am.

From the outside, I look lazy, or weak.  So, I am writing to caution you, when dealing with anyone in your life, to remember that you only get to see the outside.  The world only gets to witness what we choose to put on display.   Many of us our very private people, and prefer to keep details of our illness to ourselves (you can Google them all, or ask me questions privately, if you like), and most of us hate being perceived as whiners and complainers.  So, we don’t talk about it.

Except when we do.  Because, sometimes, we DO need to talk about it.  I seek out others who have similar issues, because I know I can vent to them, and they will understand (online forums are great for this purpose).  I rely on the support of my friends and family, who I know love me, warts and all.

When you are tempted to think someone is being weak or lazy, or complains too much, please pause and think.  It’s possible that they have already fought and won numerous battles before they even left the house that morning ~ things you will never know about, like, maybe, that man woke up unrefreshed, feeling like someone spent the whole night beating him with a bag of hammers, but he got out of bed, anyway.  Maybe, that woman cried through her morning shower, because all of her skin feels severely sunburned all the time, and washrags feel like sandpaper; but she showered, anyway, because you can’t just go around dirty all the time.  Maybe, the child had to use a nebulizer this morning, and is jittery and grumpy as a result, because, otherwise, he couldn’t breathe.  Maybe, that incredibly slow walker at the the grocery store moves that way because it feels like she’s stepping on broken glass.  Maybe, your friend is late because he had an attack of explosive diarrhea, and he’s still not 100% sure it’s over, but he showed up anyway, because it’s not like he isn’t used to this.  Maybe your coworker is distracted because she is just in so much pain that she can barely think.  The fact is, we just don’t know what people don’t tell us.

Please, if you know someone who is suffering from chronic illness ~ or even someone who is just “always sick” ~ try to be supportive and understanding.  I cannot count the number of times I was called a “hypochondriac.”  There are two problems with this: a) I am not a hypochondriac, and that person with whom you are irritated might not be, either; and b) hypochondria is a real, serious, and treatable condition.  If you truly believe someone you care about suffers from hypochondria, for God’s sake, help him.  It’s important, here, to caution anyone dealing with a person (yourself, or someone you love) who seems to be “always sick” not to chalk it up to hypochondria and move on.  The fact is, even if no doctor can find a diagnosis, that person may still be suffering from some kind of chronic illness.  Don’t give up.  There are answers.

Lastly, I will offer a few words of caution about those “answers.”  They are just that: answers.  So, now, we know what to call this.  We know how to begin to treat it, and possibly improve the situation.  However, chronic illness is called “chronic” for a reason.  For some people, identifying the culprit means starting on the road toward recovery and improved quality of life.  For others, it means learning to manage symptoms, learning how to live with being chronically ill.  So, don’t hold your breath waiting for a “cure,” but don’t give up on finding one, either.

How do I manage the stress of being chronically ill?  I’ve found this works:

Relax.  Breathe.  Brace yourself.  Soldier on!

Thanks for taking the time to read.

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