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Let’s Get Real: An Open Letter from Someone with Chronic Illness, To Friends, Family…and Strangers

Ashley’s Journey to Wellness – Entry #17 – Let’s Get Real: An Open Letter from Someone with Chronic Illness, To Friends, Family…and Strangers – Ashley Boynes, Community Development Director, Arthritis Foundation, WPA Chapter (Rheum for Wellness)

I DID NOT WRITE THIS LETTER!  For the original, please follow the link above.  Many, many thanks go to my wonderful friend Ashley for allowing me to share this beautiful letter with my readers!

Dear Reader,

I am a person living with chronic illness. I’m your neighbor, your friend, your co-worker, maybe your classmate.

I probably don’t “look” sick, and you probably don’t understand why I “get special treatment.”

At first, you were probably sympathetic to may always being injured, or ill. Now, you’re probably quite sick of it, and thinking I’m full of excuses. Do you think it’s “all in my head?” Do you think I use my health to get out of doing things? Do you think I’m lazy or whiny? Want attention or pity? Do you think I’m just depressed or anxious?

If you think that, think again. I’m sure that there are people like that, but most of us wish we had it any other way and we are just doing the best we can to cope with what we were given.

Let me introduce you to myself , or, re-introduce you to myself…and to millions like me.

We’re the people you work with who call off or come in late “all the time” for seemingly “no reason” and who seem to have an endless stream of doctor’s appointments and hospital visits because……well, we do! We’re the “go-getters” who are trapped in sick and disabled bodies. People who are frustrated because our life goals and careers may not work out the way we wanted them to because we got sidetracked due to unforeseen illnesses with unpredictable outcomes. Try to remember that maybe we don’t “want” to have to take days off or work less hours or resort to certain choices regarding employment circumstances in life. It may help put things into perspective for you.

We’re the friend who always makes plans with you but then, yes, sometimes cancels last-minute because we’re not feeling well, and the nature of most of these autoimmune illnesses is totally unpredictable and can change from day to day or even hour to hour. Yes, we are aware that it probably begins to sound like an “excuse.” We’re the person who you altogether STOP asking to hang out because you “assume” we won’t be able to. Eventually, you’ll stop even caring enough to want to keep in touch. Maybe you get sick of hearing about us talk about our health, even though it is a huge part of our life, and we listen to you talk about much LESS serious parts of your life. And that’s fine. Our trials make us stronger, and when YOU, God forbid, are faced with serious health situations someday, hopefully far, far down the road, we’ll be ready and able, and equipped to handle it when you need US to lean on in the future. Just remember that we’re still the same person as we were before. Though our health is a huge part of who we are, we still have the same interests as we did before, and are still the same person – ill health didn’t rob us of our personality or our soul. Just because we aren’t able to do all of the same things that we were before does not mean that we got robbed of the ability to be a good friend. In fact, just the opposite, I think. I know that adversity shows you who your true friends are. Sadly, I’ve had many abandon me, or, at least I feel that way….people who’ve left me when I’ve needed them most … and, also, people who’ve came to my side when I’ve needed them most!

We’re the family member or loved one who might seem distant or moody from time-to-time. Well, no wonder. Fatigue and constant sickness and pain will do that to a person. Then there’s the “what if.” What if I didn’t have this chronic illness in my life? Always try to remember that, whether we disclose it or not, a lot of us have had to give up a lot of things due to our sicknesses and disabilities, whether we talk about it or not….everything from careers, to friendships, to relationships, to our looks, money, sometimes an education – who knows! Aside from their health, you don’t know what a person has lost because of their chronic illness.

For me, aside from giving up many foods, and losing some friends since I became even more ill, I’ve lost my self-esteem. I have lost the body that I once loved (due to weight-gain from meds and lack of exercise) and my self-esteem right along with it. Until I get my knee fixed and arthritis under control to do the types of exercises I need to do,  and until I can find foods that literally don’t make me sick, I may not get that back for awhile…and that sounds silly and vain, but it is VERY difficult! (Most people think I’m nuts but…again…until you’re in someone’s shoes you JUST don’t know!)

I was also going to go into teaching. Many people do not know this. I was half way through graduate school and left the program because I realized I’d never, ever be able to teach with all of my autoimmune issues, health problems piling up, and my inability to “do” mornings.

It’d be easy to get depressed about these things but I do not. Many people do, but, many of us do not. But that’s why I write this letter on behalf of this all –  it’s to let all of you know that you should not simply assume things about people with chronic illness. It’s too easy to assume that “just because” someone is sick all the time, or tired all of the time, or dealing with these issues all of the time, that they are “just depressed”. Don’t assume that.

Don’t assume that they don’t “want” to work. Don’t assume that they don’t “want” to help out more around the house. Don’t assume that they don’t ‘want” to exercise; don’t “want” to be productive; don’t “want” to be your friend; don’t “want” to hang out.

Don’t assume because someone is fabulous and beautiful, or handsome and athletic, that they aren’t ill. What do looks have to do with illness? If you see a “normal looking” person with a handicapped parking pass, for example … don’t go getting all judgmental. You “never know!”

Don’t assume that because someone IS productive and working, or that they are exercising and athletic, that they aren’t sick or that they are ‘faking’ – some people are able to do more than others, illness affects every person differently! You still don’t know what type of condition they might be battling.

There are a lot of things that those of us living with chronic illness deal with, and a lot of them are issues that people don’t think about. We get “diagnoses” and “remedies” thrown at us all the time from people who – trust me – are NOT doctors. (Sometimes, it gets amusing, and you have to learn when to filter – other people with chronic ailments HAVE to know what I am talking about – HA HA)

But to all reading this letter, I ask that you take into consideration what your friends, loved ones, and colleagues are dealing with on a DAILY basis. When you start to get annoyed – stop and think about the last time you had the flu for example. Think about having the flu every single day, because that’s a pretty good comparison, I think. It should make you a little more sensitive, and should make you open your eyes to what “superheroes” people living with – and functioning with – chronic autoimmune illness really are!

Last but not least I must say that I love, value, and appreciate every person in my support system dearly … from my closest friends, family loved ones, and of course my boyfriend, to my online community, thank you all!

I hope that some of you can relate to this!

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One Response

  1. Well said!

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