I came across this video today, and it got me thinking about the different levels of understanding that other people have.
Of course, the people who best understand what it’s like to live with chronic illnesses are the people who have chronic illnesses themselves. If you’ve got them, you probably have a pretty good understanding of the difficulties, the unpredictability, the social isolation. Yeah, fun stuff, right?
I’d say the next layer are the people who knew me back before the illnesses/symptoms. These are the friends and family who don’t have CIs themselves, but they’ve watched me go through it. They’ve been there for me, supported me, seen the ups and downs. I may not tell them everything, but they know more than anyone else possibly could. And they know what to expect. They don’t get upset or even question if I have to cancel plans at the last minute. They ask in advance if I need to sit down, if I need different food, if they can help in any way. These people make it all more manageable. Thank you.
Then there are the strangers who just assume they understand. They don’t get it. On good days, I try to educate them. On not-so-good days, I just ignore them. I’d love to educate everyone, but some days, it’s just not worth it.
Hardest of all, there are co-workers, acquaintances, and new friends. These are the folks like in the video above. They honestly want to understand, they truly try, and most often, they miserably fail. They equate my illnesses with their recent bout of flu, they think my pain is like the time they sprained an ankle, they assume my exhaustion can be cured as theirs can, by going to bed early for some extra sleep. They don’t see why my health problems are so different from theirs, why I can’t just push through the symptoms. It’s harder to educate them because they are close enough to really care, so they offer too many unhelpful suggestions. It’s important to educate them because I will keep coming into contact with them over and over.
Over the years I’ve gotten better at explaining my symptoms and limitations, but I still haven’t found a way to truly convey it all. If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. In the meantime, I’ll just keep trying to get my point across, a little bit at a time.
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