“You just need to try harder”
“You’re just lazy. If you wanted it, you could do it”
“If they can do it, why can’t you?”
“It’s not like you’re paralysed or missing limbs like these people and look what they’re able to do…”
These are the kinds of things a person may hear over and over again if they are in the camp of being chronically ill rather than obviously disabled.
It’s much easier to look at someone who has an obvious disability and imagine how hard life is for them to manage without being able to see, hear, walk, use their arms, etc. There are massive adaptations that are required for these people to function ‘normally’ and it takes much more effort than it does the healthy individual.
We look at athletes in the Paralympics and admire them for their perseverance and the ability to overcome their disabilities and this is commendable.
However, it’s important not to confuse disability and chronic illness.
While chronic illness is often less visible, it can sometimes be more disabling in the sense of what the person can accomplish and, therefore, comparisons should not be made between what those who are ill can do compared with those who are disabled.
The challenges for both are real but there are differences.
A person who is missing a limb, for example, will certainly have adjustments to make and may well experience related pain. However, if they feel well apart from that, they can likely still function in a regular job, participate in hobbies, activities, sports, etc. It may look a bit different and be harder than for someone without those disabilities, but with adjustments, they can lead a somewhat normal life.
On the other hand, think about those times when you’ve been unwell – run down, fatigued, weak, digestive problems, headaches, nausea, etc. When you felt bad enough, you probably took time off work to recover. Maybe you rested in bed, slept more, and were more picky about eating healthier food in order to speed up your recovery. You probably didn’t feel like cooking for yourself so probably had a loved one cook for you. If not, you probably opted for the easiest options so you could rest again because the more you were up and active, the more unwell and ‘wiped out’ you felt.
Most people will have experienced something similar to the above for short periods of time and yet it can seem like forever when you’re feeling so rough and just want to feel well again and get back to your normal routine.
You wouldn’t dream of doing sports, hanging out with your mates, doing housework, going to work, etc. when feeling so rough. It takes all the strength you have to just do the basics.
This is more what it’s like for someone who is chronically ill – except that it’s not a short term situation. So, while they may not feel any better than the description above, they have to get on with life as much as they can despite feeling so rough.
So you will see those with chronic illness doing the shopping, cooking, housework, going to work (if they can still cope with that), etc. However, everything they do is much harder than for a healthy person. They have to push past the symptoms and often have to ‘pay’ for what they do later when home and their bodies can’t cope with anymore ‘output’.
Often a decision needs to be made based on what needs to be done that day so, if you see someone shopping, that might be their only activity and the rest of the day they’re resting/recovering.
For some, their illness is variable so that they have good days and bad days. This can be especially hard because they recognise how it can be confusing to other people as to why they can do something one day but the next day, they can hardly do anything at all.
Ultimately, the key is to recognise that there is a difference between illness and disability. Some people will have obvious disabilities and be chronically unwell too. Some will have an obvious disability but be able to live a fairly normal life despite that. And then there are those who, on the outside, look healthy but struggle to get through the day due to the effect of their illness on their body and mind.
You’ve most likely heard the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ and this principle is especially applicable here. Most chronically ill people don’t want to make a big fuss over the challenges they face and yet the simplest things can be so demanding physically and mentally. They want to live life as normally as they can but they also recognise their limitations and need to make adjustments to their lifestyle.
Let’s stop being judgemental and thinking that we know what life is like for another person. Isn’t it an arrogant position to think that we know whether someone else can or can’t do something? The idea that we know their bodies and minds better than they do?
Rather than judge or be critical, let’s come alongside and encourage. Let’s give those who are chronically ill the freedom to live life as well as they can without being judged for being fakers or lazy. Life is hard enough without dealing with the emotional burdens of unbelief, criticism, and rejection.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]