"But You Don't LOOK Sick..."
10 Commandments for interacting with the chronically ill
©2006 Susan Williams, PublicHealthAlert.org
In the realm of chronic illness, one of our more challenging tasks can be gaining support from others. As if finding a knowledgeable and caring doctor wasnt difficult enough, finding caring and supportive friends to surround ourselves with can be even more difficult. Most people are simply not capable of understanding, unless they have the misfortune of a chronic illness of their own.
How many of us have heard something along the lines of But you dont LOOK sick...? It makes one wonder how a sick person is supposed to look. If one were to hobble around on crutches, would their illness suddenly become more believable? Our society understands the visible, physical manifestations of illness, such as a broken bone in a cast or hair loss from chemotherapy. What many fail to grasp is the subtle, invisible manifestations of chronic illness. Symptoms such as pain, severe fatigue, and cognitive impairments are not easily visible to the average observer, which means that sufferers of chronic illness often look just fine.
Our society is all about instant results - the mindset that we can just pop a magic pill and all our troubles will go away. When sufferers of a chronic illness do not quickly get better, we are often treated as if it were somehow our own fault. We may even be told that we are hypochondriacs or that its all in our head.
Remember when you had the flu? You were exhausted, achy all over, and could hardly get out of bed. But, fortunately, the illness passed and you were back to your old self and usual activities.
Now, imagine if you had never recovered from that flu. Every day, you wake up achingly sore and as tired as if you had not slept at all. Imagine trying to go through your usual activities while feeling this way. Not only do work, school, and regular tasks of daily living become near-impossible, but so do the smaller day-to-day things that so many take for granted, such as simply washing your hair or paying the bills.
It is stressful, it is exhausting, it is depressing... and yet the chronically-ill person continues on in the face of it all.
For those of you who may have, at some point, been the perpetrator of an otherwise well-intentioned comment, please understand that our illness is just as real as that of an amputee or other visible illness. To help aid those of you who wonder how to interact with a chronically ill person, allow me to present the Ten Commandments.
1. Thou Shalt Not
Imply That We Are Not Truly Ill.
2. Thou Shalt Not
Imply That The Illness Can Be Easily Fixed.
3. Thou Shalt Not
Imply That We Brought This On Ourselves.
4. Thou Shalt Not
Insult or Argue With Our Limitations or Behaviors.
Sleeping all day is not a luxury for us it is a critical necessity, one that we must take in order to protect whatever remaining health we have. Perhaps it may help to think of it in terms of being one of the medications we need to take. If you wouldnt think of denying a diabetic their insulin, then dont think of denying the sufferer of a chronic illness their critical need, whether it is a mid-day nap, avoidance of certain foods or environmental factors, or something else.
5. Thou Shalt Not
Imply That You Can Relate To What We Are Going Through.
6. Thou Shalt Be
Mindful Of Other Family Members.
Individual family members adjust in different ways and at different paces. All members might benefit from counseling to help handle the stress involved, and each family member also needs to have time to pursue their own individual interests. External support from friends, neighbors, extended family, religious institutions, and support groups may help ease some of the burden.
7. Thou Shalt Acknowledge
Our Efforts and Celebrate Even Our Small Successes With Us.
8. Thou Shalt Offer
Thy Specific Help.
9. Thou Shalt Remember
10. Thou Shalt Get
To Know The Person Behind The Illness.
Most of all, please remember that the chronically-ill person is more than worthy of love, friendship, and support. Most chronically-ill people I know are the toughest nuts I have ever met. Indeed, I have come to believe that a chronic illness is not for wimps rather, only the toughest of the tough can continually face the struggles of life while battling a debilitating disease. That kind of grit deserves nothing less than pure respect and admiration, even from our toughest critic -- ourselves.
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