Think about the last time you had a really bad headache. That feeling that someone was playing a never-ending drum solo with your skull that no one could see. Until you explained what your situation was, any delay in response, productivity, or short-tempered snap at someone would be seen as you just being a prick.
That assumption is unfair, of course. You’re going through something that others just can’t see. Now imagine if that headache never went away. I welcome you to the world of chronic health conditions aka invisible illnesses.
What is a Chronic Disease?
The CDC defines a chronic disease as “Chronic diseases are defined broadly as conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both.”
They go on to note that “Chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. They are also leading drivers of the nation’s $3.8 trillion in annual health care costs.” It is estimated that “six in ten adults in the US have a chronic disease and four in ten have two or more.”
All of this combines to say, there is a strong chance that if it’s not something you personally go through, you are very likely to interact with someone who is going through struggles that you can’t see. As Germany Kent said
“Be kind. We never know what people are going through. Give grace and mercy because one day your circumstance could change and you may need it.”
How Does This Affect Your Life?
There are two sides to the coin here. You either have a chronic condition or you are interacting with someone who has a chronic condition.
If you have a chronic condition
Acknowledge. Accept. Adapt. These three words are how I deal with my personal chronic conditions. I spent far too many years trying to ignore my pain or fatigue in an attempt to “be like everyone else.” The number of setbacks that mentality created is immeasurable.
At the end of the day, I had to acknowledge that I have a different set of circumstances from the majority of people around me and that’s OK. I had to accept that there are limitations to what I am physically capable of instead of trying to push through those limits and end up in the hospital. . .again. Finally, I had to adapt to a world that was never going to stop spinning just because of my situation.
What I would suggest to anyone that is dealing with a similar situation is to focus on what you CAN do, not what you can’t. Don’t think about what you USED to be able to do. Take what you have control over and put your energy into that. It may require learning new skills, tapping into new networks, or (and I know this is a hard one) asking for help. Knowing you CAN’T do something and having the wisdom to seek out those who can help you make up for those blindspots is not a weakness, it is how successful people become successful.
If you’re interacting with someone with a chronic condition
Just be a decent human. That’s the whole trick. Think of all the things in your life that are stressful, annoying, overwhelming and then impart a little empathy on others. If someone does choose to share what they’re going through, understand that they’re not making an excuse for things they do but a reason. If they’re willing to talk to you about their experience, take the time to listen and learn about what they go through. You may learn that someone else in your life is going through a similar situation and you can help them out. Long story short, keep calm and don’t be a jerk.
How Does This Affect Your Money?
Speaking specifically from the side of having a chronic condition, *sigh* a lot. My quest for answers saw me going to doctors and hospitals along the east coast, doing a myriad of tests, and amassing thousands in medical debt over the course of 10 years only to be told they don’t know what’s wrong with me. I still consider myself lucky. Though I still battle with my symptoms of chronic fatigue and pain, I could have expensive treatments/pills/equipment sapping my money every month.
We all have different financial situations, but it hits a bit different when you have this. . .thing in you that you can’t control. As the CDC noted, chronic conditions LEAD in health care costs. Take your house, car, food, etc, and throw a flaming pile of medical costs that you never volunteered for. Trying to maintain this balance while constantly fighting this invisible battle is beyond mentally exhausting. Unfortunately, this may lead to a variety of issues finding or maintaining a job that only serves to make all of the above exponentially worse.
Impacting how you MAKE Money
There is also the fear of admitting you have a condition on job applications. Though discrimination SHOULDN’T exist, it does, whether it is a conscious or unconscious decision. There are many who feel no different from someone with a criminal record filling out an application because they have the very real concern of being taken out of contention unless there is a quota the company may be trying to fill. Natalie Pompilio has a fantastic article on Brainandlife.org that goes more in-depth on the concerns people have from all angles on the topic including employers, those job hunting, those currently employed, and the legal standing of all of the above.
Having a community helps
This can be a rough world, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re struggling with a chronic condition or two, know that you’re not alone. There is an awesome subreddit for chronic illness that shares tips on just getting through the day, some pretty hilarious and relatable memes, and a space for people to just rant and get stuff off their chests. Sometimes just being able to connect with others who feel your pain (literally) can make a huge difference in how hard the fight feels.
Never forget, we may not be able to see the illness, but we see you. You are not your condition and you deserve greatness just like everyone else in this world.
Writer, rhymer, gamer: the easiest way to define the man known as Kenneth Medford. I’m a simple man who loves to learn and loves to help and I wander the digital world trying to find ways to sate my hunger for both. Basically, I’m Galactus but helpful.
Check out my other work here or reach out to me on LinkedIn.