Imagine the sun’s scalding rays beating down on your back. As you will your legs to continue moving, every step threatens to betray you. Rivers of sweat streak your skin, stinging your eyes. As the blinding daylight obscures your vision, your heart hammers in futility. Your body weakens, and you question your resolve to continue. After all, in this race, there is no finish line.
The Perpetual Race
Such a scenario is the daily battle of those with chronic illnesses. Disease forces patients to run a race that never ends. Some days yield intolerable pain, while other days bring nothing but immobility. On some days, the fatigue is unbearable, and on other days, the soul-crushing depression is suffocating.
Imagine then, running a perpetual race while spectators taunt you, discouraging your every step. Instead of cheering you on, imagine your audience making every effort to break you. As you look for support, you receive judgment and scorn instead.
People with chronic illnesses face intolerance every single day. It is a never-ending onslaught of stigma and shame. Instead of learning more about your illness, many would rather remain ignorant. Instead of cushioning the blow of lifelong disease, many would rather kick you while you’re down. Many are determined to minimize your plight, blame you, and discredit you.
Maybe people think they’re prescribing a dose of tough love. Maybe people assume that their inflammatory comments are helpful. Whatever the case, the calloused remarks only make everything worse.
Salt in the Wound
Every chronic illness has its own challenging constellation of symptoms. Even so, there is one problem that nearly every patient shares. The stigma surrounding chronic illness is a glaring epidemic that is making patients sicker. Excessive demands, a lack of emotional support, and inadequate medical treatment are only pouring salt into the wound.
First, intolerance comes “from friends and family . . . work colleagues and . . . healthcare workers” making demands that patients simply cannot meet. [The resulting] stress, in turn, is related to decreased mental and physical health among people living with chronic illness” (Earnshaw, Quin & Park, 2011).
Second, intolerance manifests as abandonment. Those with chronic illnesses are sorely lacking “social support” (Earnshaw et al., 2011). They “are more likely to socially isolate themselves” when they do not get the “comfort, assistance and/or information” that they so desperately need (Earnshaw et al., 2011). This lack of “social support is related to poorer mental and physical health” (Earnshaw et al., 2011).
Finally, intolerance is associated with ineffective health care. Patients who encounter intolerance may “be less open about their symptoms and illness-related concerns with their healthcare providers,” leading to unsatisfactory care (Earnshaw et al., 2011). As a result, “people . . . suffer poor health-related outcomes” (Earnshaw et al., 2011).
The problem can actually be so severe that it results in death. One patient, for example, “had blood in her stool, but she was too embarrassed to tell her doctor. A year later, she was in terrible abdominal pain,” so she finally saw a doctor. “It was colon cancer, and it had spread to other parts of her body . . . it was too late to do surgery. She died six months later” (Cohen, 2009).
When you criminalize chronic illness, you’re making people sicker. When you berate people for using motorized scooters and wheelchairs, you’re making people sicker. When you leave a scathing note on someone’s car, accusing them of “faking it,” you’re making people sicker. When you choose not to be supportive, you’re making people sicker. Instead of smothering the world with judgment, try a little understanding. After all, you’re sick, too, and your intolerance is infectious. You’ve been sick long enough. Don’t you want to feel better?
Cohen, E. (2009, March 5). 10 “secrets” you shouldn’t keep from your doctor . Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/03/05/ep.secrets.doctors/index.html?iref=24hours
Earnshaw, V. A., Quinn, D. M., & Park, C. L. (2011, November 11). Anticipated stigma and quality of life among people living with chronic illnesses. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3644808/