In order to stay sane, I always try to find the silver lining in the world of chronic illness. I think one of the true blessings of being sick is that it has helped me to be more empathetic towards others. I find that I can usually tell just by looking at someone if they are feeling well or not or if they are in pain without them even saying a word. I had a customer recently who I could tell just by looking at him that he was in terrible pain. When I smiled and greeted him and looked into his eyes, I asked him if he was okay. He wanted to know what I meant. I said, “I can tell that you are in major pain.” He wanted to know how I knew because he said he always tries to hide it. I told him that “I just know. I can tell.”
It is as if those of us who are always in pain or always suffering from an illness can only see in others’ eyes what we are feeling in our own bodies. Most people just go about their day not paying any attention to the person they are talking to or looking at and probably not even thinking about whether or not they feel well or feel ill. Because good health is usually taken for granted, seeing suffering in someone else’s face, or body language and eyes can only best be recognized by someone who has fallen prey to chronic pain or illness.
But empathizing with people does not mean that I pity people. Pity is the last thing that MOST of with chronic illness want. Of course, you will always have the ones who thrive on having people feel sorry for them and will do whatever they can to play the “poor me” card, but that is the minority of sick people. Most of us are just trying to get through life and trying to be as normal as possible, even though our bodies keep telling us something different.
But with empathy also comes a toughness that I think makes me expect a lot from other people. I figure that if I am out here with all of the problems I have trying to achieve something, there is no reason why someone who is perfectly healthy should be lazy. I guess that’s my own issue I have to deal with and I was told by a former supervisor that one of my downfalls was that I expected everyone to have the same kind of work ethic that I had. I admit I haven’t improved much on that over the years but I’m a work in progress and always striving to do better!
A quiet strength comes with chronic illness that only fellow patients can relate to. We walk daily with this tremendous burden hanging over us, but we have to keep going because the world doesn’t stop, life doesn’t stop. The bills still need paid and the kids still need fed. We have had to muddle through a world where there is little understanding of what we think, feel, and deal with every second of every hour. While there is little empathy given to us, we have been able to show plenty to our mutual friends suffering along side of us. It’s a bond that is unbreakable.