My Better Day Is Someone Else's Bad Day

Living With Chronic Illness

My Better Day Is Someone Else's Bad Day

I have to admit, as someone with an invisible chronic illness, I have a hard time imagining what others who live with an invisible chronic illness go through each day. I have a co-worker that has severe back pain from a car accident; a friend who has digestive issues and chronic pain in her hands, shoulders, and neck; another friend who has severe anxiety and depression; and a sister who is homebound due to fibromyalgia. Yet, I don't know what they truly experience each and every day. Every now and again, I think I might get a glimpse through my own suffering from Lyme disease and visceral hyperalgesia.

I carry a lot of empathy for people and always have, even as a small child. I have tried to imagine how others feel with their disability and pain and try to comprehend how they cope with it, but the bottom line is I will never truly be able to stand in someone else's shoes and know exactly what they are going through. What I can do is take my experiences of dealing with chronic pain and attempt to empathize and support them the best I know how, but ultimately, I am left to my imagination. I can't get deep into their soul to conceive the pain and the disappointments that go with what they experience.

Everyone is different; everyone deals with chronic illness differently. My sister, friend, and co-worker seem to be able to mask their pain with great success. They put on a false grin and act like all is well and good when I know better by way of our conversations regarding their ongoing struggles with their health. I honestly don't know how they do it. I wonder if I hurt worse than they do or if they are just better actresses. I, unlike them, have a hard time masking the fact that I am hurting and in discomfort. It's as if my pain seeps through my skin revealing itself with the expressions on my face and in my eyes. I wish I was better at masking my pain. I wish it was a skill that could be taught.

Not being able to completely understand others' walk with pain brings me to an understanding why others who are healthy have a difficult time understanding the life of someone who lives with invisible chronic illness. Being empathetic to others has always caused me to question the intentions of those who don't have the ability to feel empathy or sympathy for others.

In the workplace, I often hear of people complaining about their runny nose, a stomachache, or a headache. It is hard for me to be empathetic, or even sympathetic, to their cries. If they only knew what I would give to just have a couple of bad days, a condition I knew would eventually resolve itself. If they only knew that how they feel at that very moment is equivalent to how I feel most of the time—that my rare "better" day is equivalent to their one bad day. Honestly, I often wonder if they attempt to understand, or if fear of losing their own health stands in the gap.

I wish I could express to those who don't understand how difficult it is to get through the day for someone who has an invisible illness. I wish they knew how hard we try and how much additional energy it takes to do simple tasks, like running errands, getting up to make copies, or even walking across the building to the other departments to make a delivery. How frustrating it is for us not to have the abilities we used to hold, that we used to take for granted. I hope they never have to experience the daily grind of a second full-time job of taking care of their health—because it is a full-time job! Yet, secretly, sometimes I wish they would experience walking in my shoes, and realize that, hey, their "bad" day isn't so bad after all.

How does it work?
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Martha Paschall-Boykin

I live with Lyme disease and founded the North Texas Lyme Support Group in the Dallas Fort-Worth Area in 2010. I write about invisible chronic illness related to Lyme disease for educational purposes. 

See all posts by Martha Paschall-Boykin