When is an illness an illness? Or more specifically, what deems an illness worthy of acknowledgement and support from others?
I recently spoke to a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer. I can’t begin to imagine how devastating it is for her to have received that news. But also it must be overwhelming to think about the subsequent treatments, surgeries, and their associated side affects & healing times. I’m sure on the inside she has moments of fear & worry, but on the outside she is showing herself to be positive. She views this challenge as a mere inconvenience in her life & wants the treatment to be behind her so she can get on with her future.
For some time I’ve greatly admired her strength and mindset. Seldom in my life have I met a more optimistic & forward thinking person. Don’t get me wrong, she does have bad days and set backs. There have been times I’ve spoken to her when she vents about ongoing problems. She’s a real person; she’s not hiding behind a facade of happy-happy if she’s not feeling it. But she does tend to see things in a very balanced way & attempts to find the positive wherever possible.
When I last spoke her, a day before she was to go into surgery, she remarked how much support she’s been getting from friends, family, and work colleagues from cards, phone calls, and emails. She’s even had people offering to pick up groceries or cook her a meal if she’s needs it. I don’t begrudge her getting this support because it’s not only important, it’s vital. But it did get me wondering about when an illness deserves support.
I’ve been on a sabbatical for nearly a year, which came about due to health issues. Without going into great detail, my health had been disintegrating for a few years culminating with extreme exhaustion to the point I struggled just to make it through one work day, never mind a whole week. While I’m doing better now, I’m still not 100% but feel I’m on the right track. Looking back I could see just how poorly I was, not only physically, but emotionally and mentally. I suppose it doesn’t help that I also suffer from depression and anxiety because I’ve learned over the years that these conditions can make you think negative things that aren’t really true. I was at a low ebb all around!
And while I got some nice comments from people I knew in my work & personal life to wish me well on my sabbatical, there was no real support from anyone. I faced such a challenging time alone. It was hard at times. Very hard.
There were days that a phone call would have made such a difference. There were days that a visit by a friend or colleague would have made such a difference. There were days that just knowing someone out there cared would have made such a difference. There were definitely some bleak days along my road to recovery.
The experience has made me a stronger person and I realise that the only one I can ever really count on is myself. It is sad, but empowering at the same time. I’m not wallowing in my friendlessness because I have learned a lot about myself during the past year. Plus now that my physical health is slowly improving, it has also had a positive impact on my emotional and mental health too. I am feeling very positive about the future & am looking forward to trying some new hobbies, interests, and maybe even a career move.
Sometimes though I will look back on the me from a year ago and want to hug her and tell her she’s not alone. And that despite her condition not being immediately life threatening (if she had continued on the same path it would have done) did she not deserve a supportive phone call, hug, or friendly ear to listen over a cup of tea?