Monday, December 19, 2011

Not So Different.

A dear friend and I were having a conversation recently - one of those "stay until they shut down the coffee house, because we have that much to talk about" kind of chats. She's not part of that bubble of health activists and patients that I am so often surrounded by online; in fact, health isn't a topic we talk about often. We grew up together, and while she does not have diabetes, she does have other life-long health adventures to navigate. As I'm looking back on the conversation now, it's surprising me a bit how much of our conversation was actually dominated by our health. (It could be because we're getting older and more comfortable talking about these things out loud; it could be because she knows I talk about my own health online; it could be because it was just time to let it out.) While we may have been dealt different cards in the health department, so much of what we discussed was the same.

The thing is, everyone has something. Diabetes, asthma, back pain, MS, family issues, debt, anxiety, depression... no one is perfect, and no one is without problems and challenges in life. The differences can lie in how we react and respond to those things, and how much we let the world in on it. (And let me say this - there is no "wrong" response. Everyone has different life experiences to draw from, different emotional states, varying preferences when it comes to privacy - and that's okay. It doesn't necessarily make one person's "bad" any worse than someone else's.)

Having that talk with my friend highlighted something important for me to realize as an advocate for people with chronic health conditions: while our afflictions may not be the same, we - as people, as emotional beings - are not so different. When my friend was talking about the medication she takes, she noted, "I'll have to take it for the rest of my life". I remember feeling that way - dreading this truth - when I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. There were already "things" in my life - why was I getting another one? Would taking this new medication change my personality; who I was? I didn't want to take another pill every day for the rest of forever!

And when we talked about the stigma surrounding anti-depressants, "I was upset at first, but now I realize, it's just that my body doesn't make that stuff anymore. I have to help my body out by supplementing it... just like insulin!" I smiled, because she hit the nail on the head. We find out what's missing, and we take care of it. It is no one's fault, and blame serves no one. We find the issue; we find a way to patch it up; we move on. The way we get ourselves to "normal" doesn't speak to our character, morals, work ethic, or decency as a human being - but our grace in doing so can.

Those of us who have to do that supplementing share many of the same concerns - how different will I feel? Will there be side effects? Forever is a long time to be on a medication... can I afford this? Can I afford not to take this? How will this condition affect how others view me? Am I going to allow this particular "this" to define who I am?

People with chronic health conditions have much in common, and we're stronger when we can come together over what we share.


  1. This is a great post, Kim. We may not understand what someone else is dealing with, but we can be compassionate, sympathetic and understand that we don't understand.

    If everyone would just understand that we may not really understand... what a great starting point that would be

  2. I've definitely learned that (and so much more) this year moderating the forums and chats at ChronicBabe.

  3. Exactly!!! This was probably the biggest thing I took away from the WEGO Health Activist meet-up I attended last year. We may be dealing with different things, but in a way our issues are so much the same and we can learn so much from people with other conditions!

  4. I wrote a similar post a couple months ago. I went on a trip with childhood friends who are activists for Alzheimers. Same same. We fight the good fight and we are all on the same team...the human team.

  5. beautiful post, kim! and i completely agree. there is so much sameness when talking to someone else who lives with a chronic health condition. i have a friend with chron's and a family member with MS. though the diseases are different, a lot is the same. they get it too.


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