A common thing I run into when discussing my chronic illnesses, such as fibromyalgiaand anxiety and panic disorder, is whoever I’m speaking with trying to relate their own experiences to my chronic illnesses, or they have a preconceived notion of how I feel. On one hand, I do appreciate that they are at least attempting to relate things in their mind so they can understand me. On the other, it can sometimes be frustrating, or feel condescending, like they don’t really believe it’s that bad.
Fibromyalgia isn’t “just muscle aches,” like you have after a long day of strenuous activity. It’s widespread – like all over your body, most of the time, and severe – meaning extreme, or abnormally bad (keyword: abnormally) muscle pain. Pain, not just aches. This pain does cause a constant ache, but that’s just another layer of pain that most don’t comprehend on top of the other pain. If you’re interested in reading about all the different types of pain we experience, you can check out my story, “My Chronic Pain Is So Much More Than ‘Just’ Pain.”
Fibromyalgia isn’t “just fatigue,” like you’d feel from living your life, or maybe having a little too much fun. It’s extreme fatigue and exhaustion that is present no matter how much rest you get, or how many medications you take. It will always be there in some form, even with a month’s vacation, because our bodies can’t repair like they are supposed to.
Fibromyalgia isn’t “just having trouble sleeping.” It’s a serious disruption of sleep patterns, and sometimes severe insomnia, that medication either doesn’t help, or the side effects of are unacceptable. Can’t be trying to work or run errands the next day while falling asleep at your desk, or behind the wheel.
Fibromyalgia isn’t “like having the flu.” Yes, some of the basic symptoms can be used to give you an idea of some of the feelings, but the aches and pain are likely worse than any you’ve ever felt unless you’ve been hit by a car or fallen off a cliff.
Fibromyalgia isn’t “just depression.” Depression itself can be debilitating, so it’s not an easy thing to handle itself, but too many people are thinking those of us with fibromyalgia just need mental health care instead of understanding that this disease is mostly physical. In my personal opinion, the depression aspect is caused by the physical symptoms we experience. It’s pretty hard to be in pain 24/7 with a constantly disrupted sleep pattern, and not end up depressed. When you think about it that way, it seems kind of silly to think it’s the other way around, especially when so many of us have shown that we were able to function “normally” before the physical symptoms got too bad. Many with fibromyalgia push themselves to function at a level higher than they should for fear of letting people down. Invisible illnesses are harder for people to accept and acknowledge.
Fibromyalgia isn’t “an excuse.” It’s the reason we’re unable to do everything a healthy person can. We can still live, we just need to do it in a much different way than what society normally expects. If you’re interested in reading about how different everyday activities can feel to someone with chronic pain, check out my piece, “50 Everyday Tasks, and What They Feel Like for a Person With Chronic Illness.”
Anxiety and panic disorder isn’t “just feeling anxious.” It can be a debilitating fear, or just a feeling of dread that starts in your subconscious and creeps over you, or attacks all of a sudden. It’s every fear and worry you’ve ever had flooding your mind irrationally. It’s confusion, chaos and panic – or just a constant voice telling you to fight or run. From what? You usually don’t even know. Sometimes you’ll know the trigger. Other times, the panic will come out of nowhere.
Anxiety and panic disorder isn’t “just worrying.” It’s worrying about absolutely nothing and everything all at the same time and not being able to control it. You aren’t even always conscious that your anxiety is affecting you when it’s happening. It’s often something that isn’t realized until you’re already into it, or it’s over.
Anxiety and panic disorder isn’t something you can “just get over.” Despite your best efforts, it can get the best of you and interfere with your daily activities.
Anxiety and panic disorder isn’t “just being weak.” It’s not having the same ability to feel at ease as someone without the disorder. Can you imagine never feeling safe, relaxed, comfortable or protected? Not being able to just go home, kick off your shoes and lie back on the couch and feel at ease because you feel like the world may fall apart if you do, but you don’t even know why? In some cases, those affected can’t ever be around people because it triggers their anxiety. It can be a lonely life.
Chronic illnesses, physical or mental, aren’t just “normal illnesses.” They are unrelenting. Affecting all aspects of our lives, every day. Some are invisible, causing even more complications. We have to learn to live with them because there are no cures, and sometimes, very little treatments. We go through life just trying to get people to understand how different things are for us.
Chronic illness isn’t “just an excuse.” It’s the reason we aren’t able to function the same as someone who is healthy.