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You’re Too Young to Be That Sick!
By Lisa Copen
I was twenty-four years old, enthusiastically living in new city, finding my independence, careers, and following my heart when I became disabled in a period days and was eventually diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. It only took about four weeks, but with two visits to doctors a week, explaining my significant pain, it felt much longer. Eventually I found a wonderful doctor of internal medicine who asked me about fifty questions. In about two days I had a diagnosis.
As with many people, having specific terms like “chronic” and “forever” attached to a painful condition can simultaneously create emotions of fear and relief. At least something describes the chronic pain. There were not many friends, however, that understood or participated in my enthusiasm for a diagnosis. And the office managers at my place of work were not concerned about my pain level, but rather about when I would be able to get back into some heels to keep the office looking professional.
“Encouragement” was quickly tossed around, like “You’re too young to feel so badly!” Rheumatoid arthritis was only something that could be related to the aches and pains their grandparents suffered from and a hot water bottle made it go away. They’d laugh and say, “You can’t have arthritis yet!” Those who attempted to sympathize, compared my weary body to a sports injury they had. “I have a touch of arthritis on my knee cap from football in college. It’s not fun when the rain comes, but you just have to keep pushing and not think about it.” Even well-intentioned words were enhanced by the brush off of a hand or even rolling eyes.
A diagnosis in your twenties throws off all the typical decisions one is making. Your twenties should be about deciding on an education, a career, relationships, and where you will live. Suddenly, most of these choices are put on hold. Instead decisions are about how you accept (or do not) accept the diagnosis, what medications to take, what the risk of side effects are worth it, and how to locate the right doctor. We learn how to decipher lab results, what alternative treatments to try and when to have a good cry versus when to just bite your lip.
As I tried to make each decision based on careful research, instinct, and “worse case scenario” situation, hearing someone flippantly say, “You’re too young to have that illness” felt like a slap in the face. Though a simple comment, my heart felt it deep, as if they assumed I was too ignorant or accepting of the doctor’s diagnosis. They implied that I needed to be more assertive and get a the “real” diagnosis of an illness that could be cured in a few weeks with a pill. After all, I couldn’t really be that sick, because I “looked so good.”
Laurie Edwards, author of Life Disrupted: Getting Real About Chronic Illness in Your Twenties and Thirties says, “However infuriating and irrational such comments are, they only have the power to define or validate our conditions if we allow that to happen. There are all sorts of reasons why people find it easy to scorn or deny illness, especially in younger people who ‘should’ look and act healthy.”
The saturation of advertisements on television and in magazine for prescription medications has helped legitimize some illness, such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. There are downsides, however. For example, everyone considers her self an expert on the, plus they make their assumptions about how well the drugs work based on the ads. The advertisements show people with debilitating illnesses (healthy models, actually) who are astonishingly now able to water ski or join their kids on 300-foot water slides. While a certain percentage of people may experience remission, the majority of us are happy to be able to get up out of bed without assistance, get dressed, and drive to the grocery store. Ads and commercials fail to alert people that though an illness may be temporarily controlled, they are usually associated with immense daily chronic pain.
With any chronic illness, most of which are invisible illnesses, there will be people who will be skeptical about how much your life is impacted by your condition. When you cope with an illness while in your twenties or thirties, and you “look healthy” they will have even more hurdles to jump over to get the fact that for you to feel better requires more than an attitude adjustment or a daily walking regimen.
Get an instant download of 200 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend from “Beyond Casseroles” by Lisa Copen when you subscribe to HopeNotes invisible illness ezine at Rest Ministries. Lisa is the coordinator of National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week held annually in September.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 10 so far )