Friday, 22 November 2013

It's OK to be ill (in reaction to being called a hypercondriac)

I’m a bit scared of this post. I imagine some people will read what I’m about to write and think ‘yes I know how that feels’. But I think others will say ‘we all get ill, get over it’. As always, I am writing an honest account of my experience. What is the point of everybody pretending everything is OK when sometimes it isn't? Maybe what we really need is someone just to tell us it’s fine and we’ve done nothing wrong.

So, I am not trying to compete with anyone. I am not trying to get sympathy. I am simply writing this to say to the world: this is what it’s like for me and if you feel the same then I for one don’t have a problem with that.

So far in my life, touching wood as I write, I have been very lucky: I’ve never had any serious health issues- nothing that could threaten my life. I’ve never broken a bone, never even had to go to A&E!

Having said this, like many people I suffer from hereditary back and skin problems, and have a hormonal imbalance that is managable but sometimes causes a wave of issues ranging from lethargy to severe cramps and migranes.

Like I said, no sympathy needed, this is just how it is and I deal with it as we all do. But the thing is, when your baseline level of health is not exactly tip top, and you fall ill, it can seem like your body is fighting you and you are loosing the battle! I imagine most people understand what this feels like. However, what’s not easy is explaining this to others when you’re in the middle of it.

I’ve written previously about my long-term illness recently. I’ve never experienced anything like that before- being so ill for so long. I’ve had colds and flu and stomach upsets, but nothing that’s lasted more than a week or two. Anyone else who has also been ill for a long time will understand how frustrating and frightening it can be, particularly when it’s not obvious what’s actually causing it.

The worst thing about it is that you start to doubt yourself. When I first got ill I spent a week trying to work and ending up in tears because I couldn’t understand why I didn’t have the energy to do
anything, being so angry at  myself for letting everybody down, and hating myself for letting people see me in that state. I frequently told myself I needed to sort myself out and just get on with it… I do wonder now that if I’d just accepted I was ill and rested right at the start, maybe I wouldn’t have been ill for as long as I was.

The tricky thing is, how do you approach this with others? Having to admit illness (to yourself as well as to others) can become demoralising, especially if it's long term, or on a regular basis, because it makes you feel weak.

Like anything in life, there is a spectrum here. There are people who are generally very healthy. Some of these people work hard to stay healthy and good on them! I’ll happily admit I could do more to stay healthy- get more exercise and drink less wine- but there are people in the world who just had the luck to have a family history of good health, who don’t have to try too hard to stay slim and fit. Then there are people further down the spectrum, people more like me who are sometimes ill and sometimes well. And then there are people who suffer from a list of illnesses as long as you arm. And further down- the really upsetting stories- the children who die so young of killer illnesses, people taken before their time, people who suffer- truly suffer not just like my chronic back pain- for years until it takes them. Like I said at the start- I am not competing. When I use the word ‘suffer’ to describe the pains in my back, the problems I have because of my hormonal issues, and the cracked skin on my hands, I using it in a different sense to how you would describe the suffering of someone with crippling arthritis or cancer. But at the end of the day, suffering is suffering and when I say I’m in pain it is because I am.