Last week I wrote about The Fault in Our Stars but the post was more a rant about how misunderstood people with illness are, not to mention how much we underestimate the intelligence of teenagers. Well, it turns out that I have more to say about the being ill part (shocking, I know). I’ve been thinking about how people with illnesses like ME strive so hard to make it understood that they have a real illness, and yet even when people do grasp that truth, we’re still totally misunderstood.
If you’re an ME sufferer, have you ever had someone ask you about your illness or what you do all day, only for that person to respond with “I would die if I had to live like that”. Yeah, I know, it sounds like an unbelievably inconsiderate thing to say, but it is amazing how many times I have had that response from people, and I’m not the only one.
When I first became ill, I was very angry. Why did people not understand? But the truth is that people cannot understand, and over a decade later, I’m glad they can’t as I wouldn’t wish this hell on anyone. Just about everyone is limited by their own preconceived notions about a given situation. We live in the twenty-first century, and there is a lot of faith in medicines and doctors in general. I can understand that. If someone has not spent vast amounts of time in doctor’s surgeries and hospitals, one can be forgiven for thinking that in this modern era there is a cure or treatment for everything and all illnesses are understood and treated well. So when an ME sufferer shows up with this crazy and mostly invisible illness it can be difficult to understand. I didn’t understand it myself when I first became ill, and I was convinced if I just got a diagnosis, I’d be given a prescription and all would be well again. Oh, how naïve I was.
Then when it’s established that you do actually have an illness, those closest to you start to see how drastically your life has changed. It’s traumatic enough when you’re ill and have to stop working, socialising and in some cases even leaving your bed. Of course a healthy person would recoil from the thought of having to live like that. I can totally see how it is a kind of living death, because…newsflash…that’s exactly how so many ME sufferers feel, at least at the beginning (and maybe some of the middle). However, most ill people that I know establish a new life for themselves within the new parameters that the illness has created.
Before I became ill, I always wanted to write, but I never had the time to do it. I may be foggier and slower now than when I was healthy, but I do write. Among my ill friends I have a published author, a very accomplished knitter, someone who is about to propose to her girlfriend (since I wrote this, she proposed and they’re getting married!) and a woman who runs an internet business from her bed, and that’s just off the top of my head. Ill people don’t spend all day every day lamenting their circumstances. Of course we all have bad days and even weeks, and anger and depression can make an appearance then, but isn’t that true for most healthy people too?
I’ve noticed that when people first get ill, they’re more likely to talk about their illness. I know I did and I even know why I did it. I felt like I had to convince people that I was really ill and how serious the illness really was, because I felt so guilty about not being able to be there for social events or even just a chat, like I used to be. Now, I’ve made my peace with it, and I even understand why people react the way they do, and just about every person with a chronic illness has reached or will reach this same awareness and serenity. I know that at some time or the other, people with an illness feel misunderstood, but we can often misunderstand healthy people too, who are limited in their understanding by the very fact that they have not had a chronic illness.