Why having chronic illness is like being a knight in armour
A new analogy for what it is like to live with chronic illness
For many of us with chronic illness it can be difficult to explain how our illness limits us, especially when on the outside we may appear perfectly healthy and able-bodied. There are many useful metaphors and analogies, like Christine Miserandino’s famous Spoon Theory, that help to explain how living with chronic conditions uses up the energy most people use on things they take for granted.
However, living with chronic illness affects us in far more ways than simply limiting the way we use energy. It also affects our relationships, how we socialise and how we are perceived by those around us. Our illness, condition or disorder envelopes every aspect of our lives; we wear it everywhere, we can never leave it behind… it’s like wearing 25kg of armour every single day of your life.
Knights in battle-worn armour
Armour is heavy and cumbersome. Just as armour weighs you down, makes you move slower with less agility and dexterity, having chronic illness slows us down, makes it harder for us to keep up with others and do the things others take for granted.
Armour is high maintenance. You have to keep it oiled and dry otherwise it will rust. It needs polishing to be seen at its best. We require constant monitoring, medication and therapy. We need to prepare in advance, making sure we have enough of what we need before we can go anywhere so spontaneous outings can be hard for us.
Armour makes a noise. It squeaks and clangs as you move about in it. No matter how hard we might try to hide our condition, our symptoms or limitations can annoy or disappoint others.
A knight never goes anywhere without his armour. Our condition goes with us, wherever we go. We can’t simply take it off or leave it at home. We have to deal with our conditions every single day; we never get a day off.
Armour is incredibly uncomfortable. It’s constricting, it becomes like an oven in hot weather and a freezer in cold. It digs into your body and rubs against you causing your skin to bleed, blister and form calluses. Having a chronic illness is not easy, comfortable or fun.
The visor on the helmet impairs a knight’s vision. Just as a knight cannot see far beyond his own armour when his visor is down, we sometimes become so overwhelmed by our condition that it is hard for us to focus on anything else.
It’s hard for a knight to be heard through his helmet. People, often doctors, don’t listen to us and make assumptions that are often incorrect and can lead to misunderstanding, and even missed diagnoses.
All people see is the armour. Sadly many people focus only on the illness and limitations that they never see the amazing person on the inside.
A knight needs help taking off his armour. The knights of old had squires, servants, who helped take off and carry a knight’s armour. With help, support and understanding, the burden of our illness can be lessened and the right people can help us carry it.
Being a knight is not always a choice. A knight didn’t always choose his path, sometimes he was forced into it. We didn’t choose to be sick or have a disability.
If a knight falls or is pushed over it’s difficult for him to get up again. When we have a bad flare-up of symptoms it can be a struggle to get back to our version of normal.
A knight endures pain. He continues to fight even with broken bones and bleeding wounds and returns to the battle field again and again. We continue to do our jobs and live our lives while coping with levels of pain and discomfort that would send others to the emergency room.
Knights have a code of honour. We are sympathetic to others with chronic illness and disability. It’s like a badge of honour we share, a common understanding. Something ‘normal people’ just don’t get.
A knight’s life is solitary. Knights dedicated their lives to the service of their king, rarely having families or outside lives. For us, our conditions can isolate us; prevent us from socialising and participating in activities. Friends move on, relationships break up, family ignore us, and we end up alone.
A knight never surrenders. A knight would rather fall on his sword than surrender. We keep going, because we have to, there is no other choice. Those with chronic illness and disabilities are among the strongest people you will ever meet, because like a knight fighting to uphold honour and justice, there is no battle more noble, than to keep fighting when all you want to do is give up.
PS: I used the male pronoun for convenience only. Today’s knights come in every colour of the rainbow.