No Pain, No Gain. You are too Young to Give in to Illness
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. Despite the terms “chronic” and “forever” I felt relieved to know the label that described my chronic pain.
Few of my friends, however, shared my enthusiasm for a diagnosis. The managers at my office were more concerned about the fact that I wasn’t wearing heels to work anymore, making me look less professional. They quickly flung the words, “You’re too young to feel so bad!”
They always confused rheumatoid arthritis as being related to typical arthritis their grandmothers suffered from, exclaiming, “You can’t have arthritis yet.” Some tried to sympathize, comparing my fatigued body to a sports injury they had dealt with. “Oh yeah, I have some arthritis on my knee from football. It’s not fun, but you just have to push through the pain.” Oftentimes, the comments were accompanied by the wave of a hand or the rolling eyes.
When you are diagnosed with a chronic illness while in your twenties, all typical decision making it thrown off schedule. This time in your life should be about choices for areas of education, a career, relationships, and even where you will live. Instead, all of these decisions are put on hold and you must make more life-changing choices – fast!
How you accept (or do not) accept the diagnosis? What medications should you take? What is the risk of side effects and are worth it? How do you find the best doctor? We get a fast education on how to read lab test results, what forms of alternative treatments to try, and even when to let yourself have a good cry versus when to just bite your lip and hold the tears back. I tried to make each decision based on thorough research, a bit of instinct, and “worse case scenario” situations.
So when I heard someone facetiously say, “You’re too young to have that illness” it felt like a slap in the face; as if they assumed I was too gullible to fight the doctor’s diagnosis and get “right one” that could be cured with a simple pill. I had to be incorrectly diagnosed, they assumed, because, after all, I “looked so good.”
Laurie Edwards, a woman who grew up with a chronic illness as a child is the author of ‘Life Disrupted: Getting Real About Chronic Illness in Your Twenties and Thirties,‘
In her book she explains, “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 – fear, ignorance, intolerance, to name some.”
The ambush of advertising for prescription medicines has given the general public a small education on the fact that illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia are legitimate diseases. However, with this education, comes the feeling that everyone is an expert and their assumptions about various diseases are now based on what one sees in those same commercials.
For example, people with disabling illnesses can somehow be miraculously playing tennis or doing a marathon. While it’s true that a very small percentage of people may go into remission, or those just diagnosed may have favorable results, most of us are happy if we can get out of bed, get dressed and drive a car.
These commercials neglect to inform people that though an illness can be controlled somewhat, the person may still be in significant daily 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 a free download of 200 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend from “Beyond Casseroles” by Lisa Copen when you subscribe to HopeNotes ezine at Rest Ministries. Lisa is the coordinator of National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week and host of Hope Endures Radio Podcast.