What is Chronic Illness?

Chronic illness is not easy to define, there is no checklist of symptoms that are consistent for every person living with chronic illness; each individual’s experience varies tremendously, even among people with the same diagnosis. When something is difficult to define, it becomes open to misconceptions – something that is definitely true of chronic illness.

In short, chronic illness is any disorder that persists for a long period of time – usually upwards of three months – that has an impact on the way an individual is able to function physically, intellectually, emotionally or socially. It usually – but not always – requires a person to adapt their way of life. Typically, chronic illnesses are not able to be cured, although for some people symptoms are able to be managed through medication or changes to their diet and lifestyle (as is the case for people diagnosed with celiac disease).

Here are some of my thoughts about chronic illness:

Chronic illness is not a choice.

It is not laziness. (For some people taking a shower really can feel the same as running a marathon.)

Some people suffer with an undiagnosable condition – just because something can’t be diagnosed does not mean it isn’t real.

Exercise and changes to diet will help improve symptoms in some people, but not in everyone. (And chances are we’ve tried.)

For some of us medication is necessary: we are not all victims of ‘Big Pharma’.

Although it can help us to live a fulfilling life alongside our chronic illness, positive thinking is not a cure all for every long-term disease.

Chronic illness can sometimes require – and often force – a change in how we live. This doesn’t mean we have abandoned our dreams of achievement: we just need to take a diversion. Just because we need to find a different way to achieve our goals, it doesn’t mean they’re unachievable. Just because we are taking a different route, it doesn’t mean we are not trying to get there.

As is the case for every individual on the planet, every person with chronic illness will have different limitations and different goals. For a while, my goal was to manage to stay awake for more than two hours at any one time. To feed myself. To sit up in bed. To walk. They were incremental: they were hard. Without these foundations everything else is forced by the wayside, so sometimes – some weeks – my health dictates a shift in focus back to these goals.

Sometimes we have to start small: And that’s OK. (But that doesn’t mean we can’t dream big.)

It might take longer, we might need to change our route – or even our destination – but we can still get shit done when we feel like shit.

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