It’s no secret that being sick sucks. Whether it’s the flu, a cold, or a chronic illness, it’s never fun. But just imagine having to deal with those symptoms day in and day out, with very little (if any) relief. On top of all of that, you look totally “normal”. Not only are you not showing your pain, but you’re probably actively masking it, both literally and figuratively. I mean, living a normal life is exhausting enough without having to pile on a bunch of burdensome symptoms that you can’t seem to control no matter what you try.
There are an abundance of chronic illnesses out there that affect people in all different ways. But no matter how your chronic illness affects your life, there is no question that it probably affects your life in ways that a healthy person would never even consider.
Side Effects of Chronic Illness
An alternative social life.
Having a chronic illness causes you to make choices and prioritize things you maybe wouldn’t if you were healthy. Mellow activities, staying sober, even staying in seem a lot more attractive when you spend all of your energy dealing with your symptoms and the challenges of daily life. Maybe before your illness, you were out at the bars with your friends 2-3 times a week. But since getting sick, a lot of your social interactions are via technology. You find friends that want to spend time with you regardless of what you’re doing, even if it just means sitting and watching Netflix together. As a result, your friendships become deeper and more meaningful. You bond over things you maybe would have otherwise not known about your friends. It may not be the most exciting social life, but it’s about as good as they come.
Oh, the guilt.
Everyone, sick or healthy, experiences guilt from time to time. Should you have called your grandma today? Probably. Were you a little late to work today? Yes, and you feel kind of bad about it. But you move on and try to do better the next day. When you have a chronic illness, you honestly have no idea if you can do any better the next day. You don’t know when you’ll have the energy or ability to do the tasks or assignments you are faced with every day. Those of us with fighting a chronic illness often feeling like we aren’t doing enough because we aren’t doing what our healthy counterparts can do. We aren’t always able to do what we think should be able to do. And the guilt from that isn’t something that is easy to get over.
So much anxiety. And depression.
Similarly, you can experience anxiety or depression even if you don’t have a physical chronic ailment. Mental illnesses can be incredibly debilitating on their own and no one should ever feel ashamed or weak for seeking help. In fact, you are stronger for wanting to help yourself. All of that being said, chronic illness and mental illness often go hand in hand.
When your body is fighting you at every turn, and you don’t always know what is fueling your flares, it is so hard to trust anything. When you can’t even trust your own body, how can you trust anything else? And, when your body is fighting against you, you can feel incredibly isolated. There is a lot of time spent alone, laying in bed. There’s a lot of time taken off of work and bailing on social obligations. All of this can lead to increased periods of anxiety and/or depression. And it’s the worst.
New hobbies and interests.
When your body is in constant battle mode, it can be completely exhausting. Maybe you were someone who went to the gym daily and went to the bars on the weekends with your friends. Maybe you were someone who always said yes to spontaneous road trips and adventures, without having to be concerned with what could go wrong. If that is still you, embrace it and cherish it. That kind of freedom is beautiful. While some kinds of chronic illnesses totally allow that kind of lifestyle and those who have their symptoms under control can live that way as well, not everyone has that luxury.
Sometimes we can still work out or play sports, but we’ll have days our bodies just say no. Going to big social events or staying out late at the bars isn’t always an option either, as they can take literally everything out of us and trigger flares. Spontaneous adventures sound wonderful, but we usually have to plan around our symptoms and try to avoid foods and activities that could trigger flares. These kinds of factors often lead to us finding new, more mellow (but still incredibly enjoyable) activities such as Netflix binging, writing a blog, drawing, cooking, and reading.
All the empathy.
When you are in chronic pain and you are ultra-sensitive to how your actions affect how you feel, you also become acutely aware of how those around you feel, physically or emotionally. You are able to better notice when they are upset by something and what triggered it, or if they aren’t quite feeling their best. I’m not by any means saying that we are experts on their lives, because there is no possible way we could be. But those who live with a chronic illness know so much about being hurt and upset, that they are better able to identify and relate to those who are feeling the same.
Similarly, when things are good, those with a chronic illness see so much beauty in it and want everyone around them to see the beauty too. There can be so much ugliness and pain in life (especially with a chronic illness) that we want everyone, including ourselves, to embrace and enjoy the good.