It seems that people have a very hard time understanding what they cannot see. Instead of trying to understand, people are more likely to make negative assumptions which is how myths and stereotypes are born.
I used comments that I have personally heard and also asked for input from others living with chronic illness. Surprisingly or not, these are all comments that people living with chronic illness have heard before!
The Truth Behind 5 Common Chronic Illness Myths
Myth: If you do not look sick then you must not have chronic illness
Truth: Many chronic illnesses are invisible. Examples of this would be diabetes, depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, arthritis (in some cases), chronic fatigue syndrome and so many more. Just because you cannot see it doesn’t mean it is not real. You can’t see germs or air. What do you think the reaction would be if you told someone that there was no such thing as air because you can’t see it. I don’t think it would go over very well. Now imagine that someone tells you that they are in pain and you say “I can’t see it so it must not be true”. Sounds pretty silly right?
Suggestion: If you do not have anything nice to say, do not say anything at all.
Myth: Chronic illness is not real, it’s all in the person’s head
Truth: Chronic illness changes lives… and not in a good way. People with chronic illness often miss out on family events, miss time with loved ones, experience immense pain (physically or mentally) all while trying to carry out daily tasks. No one would ever choose to have chronic illness. It turns lives upside down. It invades family life. It is not made up, it is real… and it sucks!
Suggestion: Don’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes.
Myth: People are in pain because they are overweight and/or do not exercise
Truth: Chronic illness is non-judgmental. So much so that it is happy to take up residence in any body regardless of the shape or form it comes in! So yes, some people with chronic illness may weigh more than others and yes I am sure if we lost weight we would all feel better, that’s just a fact. However when it takes all your energy just to have a shower, it is highly unlikely that the same person will then be able to hop on the elliptical or go for a walk.
Suggestion: Don’t tell a person with a chronic illness that they are overweight and/or need to exercise. We are all very aware of our own bodies and chances are that said person is very aware that they are overweight. They are also probably very frustrated knowing that they cannot do much about it physically due to a lack of energy, lack of sleep or debilitating pain. Unless your loved one asks for your opinion, just keep your thoughts to yourself. Instead ask what you can do to help. Here are some tips for supporting a friend who is living with a chronic illness.
Myth: People with chronic illness are whiners and complainers
Truth: Most people living with chronic pain actually keep it to themselves and if they do mention it they often extremely downplay how they are feeling by saying things like “not great” or “having a rough day”. If you asked someone with chronic illness how they felt and they responded honestly you would hear something like:
“I just want to scream… it feels like there are knives digging into my shoulder blades, my legs are being attacked by fire ants and I am itchy all over… I feel like my skin is crawling. My head won’t stop pounding and my hands and feet are tingly. I feel so depressed and hopeless, I just want to have ONE good day. Just one!”
But instead you get “I’m having a rough day” or “I am in a lot of pain today”. If you consider this to be whining and complaining after what I just described then I cannot help you to think otherwise.
Suggestion: Be compassionate & kind. Again, if you don’t have anything nice to say- keep it to yourself.
Myth: People with chronic illness are just lazy
Truth: People with chronic illness have a limited amount of energy to use in a day. If someone uses all their energy at the start of the day then they will be in bed for the rest of the day and potentially many days after that. People living with a chronic illness generally have a pretty good sense of their limits and know what can and cannot be done. If someone says that they cannot do something believe them or brainstorm together to see if there is a way to make said thing easier for that person.
Suggestion: To better understand the energy of a person with chronic illness, read this post about spoon theory.
I hope this helps to give you a better idea of the truth behind these chronic illness myths and what it is like to live with a chronic illness. If you found this post to be helpful please share it with others to help raise awareness about chronic illness and help to break the stigma!
What common chronic illness myths have you heard?