Thursday, 20 November 2014

"Out sicking" the sick

Before I start my blog post I have to announce that from now until the new year I will only be posting once a week on a Thursday. It has been a tough decision to make however with my health taking a very sudden and dramatic nose dive, I currently don't have the energy to produce two posts a week. I hope you will understand that this decision wasn't taken lightly but I think it is really important that for the next 6 weeks or so, I focus on putting myself back together.

I have spoken at great length before about how social media and forums for the chronically sick can turn into a bit of a competition and that is why I have so very little to do with them. However this competitive illness malarkey seems to be spreading outside the chronic condition arena. It is now the norm for the "norms" to inform everyone via social media, that they were sicker, had more medication, had to go to hospital / have an operation / took some time off work (please delete as applicable)  and were finally able to conquer and overcome this illness in a way us long-term "pathetic" sick people can't.

For the last ten days I have been suffering from a really nasty virus. The kind that knocks you back months, the sort of virus that as you start to feel better you find it has drained any energy reserves you may have built up previously. I am struggling with even performing the most basic of tasks such as walking (my legs have appeared to turn into jelly) and typing (why typing is an issue I don't know, as soon as I start to type my hands are shaking). I would hazard a guess that I haven't been this weak since I collapsed in 2008. This was my physical condition when I was discharged from hospital and it took weeks, if not months to get any strength back.

 I am not however allowed to mention this on social media because to do so would incur the wrath of those who aren't chronically sick. You see I have used up my sympathy quota and I am simply not allowed to say that I have caught the latest bug doing the rounds. Plus being "normal" sick on top of chronically sick means I am hit much harder than everyone else, making my symptoms so much more dramatic and longer lasting than those who are "normal". I must conform to the image of the chronically ill, the stoic, never talking about it and soldiering on version. Lets face it no one talks about chronic illness, is it any wonder why? To openly talk about the issues you face with anyone other than close friends or family leaves you open to abuse. So when I do get a virus / normal illness on top of what I am dealing with I tend to keep my mouth shut. 

Now not every "normal" person I know tries to "out sick" the sick. It seems to be a definite personality type that revels in the attention it brings. Unfortunately there is one thing that these competitive sickness people don't seem to grasp and that is the difference between a chronic health condition and one of an acute nature.  An acute illness appears suddenly and its symptoms rapidly worsen as in flu, throat infections, appendicitis, heart attack or a broke bone. I am not belittling acute conditions obviously people can die from an acute condition. Also acute conditions can trigger a chronic condition as in a broken bone over time can end up being riddled with arthritis. Acute illness is painful and not to be sniffed at but many people go on to make a full recovery, leading to their brush with ill-health a short-lived experience.

Please let me be clear those that try to "out sick" the sick tend to have suffered with a short-term acute health issue which was relatively minor. I am not including people in this who have had very serious acute health issues. Nor am I belittling anyone's experience of ill-health.

Chronic illness tends to come on over time (I say tends to, as mine and many others came about quite suddenly, looking back I can see there were signs for years). I like the example given here, where it explains that chronic conditions last months if not years. Most chronic illnesses cause pain of some kind and the pain creeps up on you gradually suddenly it gets to a point where you can't remember a time when you were pain-free. It requires medical supervision (if you are lucky enough to get a diagnosis or a doctor that understands it!) and large amounts of prescription medication. Again there is a lot of cross over between acute and chronic illnesses which is why I think many people get so confused.

It's cold, flu and Norovirus season here in the UK and my news feed on social media is full of people suffering from the lurgy. I always leave a message for them that I hope they get better soon because I really do. It is a shame however that courtesy is not extended to me in return. I have written before on how I have to self censor as my illness is seen as "depressing". I try to keep the majority of my health issues on my The Myasthenia Kid page. 

I have noticed that there seems to be a great deal of competitiveness amongst the norms (as I like to refer to them as) when they are sick. Everyone it seems wants to be sicker than the last person that posted about it. I have even seen them hijack each others postings so they can make it all about themselves again. Being the sickest isn't a competition I have ever wanted to win I know many people who are a great deal sicker than me. I am in awe of the way that they live their lives grabbing every moment of happiness they can. I certainly don't want their condition so I can win. There are plenty of things that I want to excel at, being the sickest just isn't one of them.

The competitiveness has even spread to the point where they feel the need to challenge my illness. I have had people who have had awful acute illnesses that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy try to what I call "out sick" me. What these norms forget is that they got better, I am still living with my condition and will be day in, day out until they find a cure.

The spirit of the competition has spread so much that they like to inform me of the super strong pain killing tablets they have been placed on ......diclofenic / naproxen both NSAIDS. They then try to tell me that these are stronger than opiates, they aren't but nice try. This is what I mean by competitive illness. Due to their belief they have glimpsed at what it is like to be chronically ill they assume they know what it is like. They like to "out sick" the sick and then tell us all how they triumphed over adversity and returned to full health. The insinuation being that if only you had tried harder when you first got ill you would be well now and not addicted to opiates. Their words not mine. It is hard not to greet this kind of tosh with a smack in the face, currently I don't have the energy to do so.

I have even had conversations with people who for very good medical reasons were placed on Tramadol (a synthetic opioid) tell me that they refused to take it because "they didn't want to get addicted" cue *sad face*. I hate that conversation because its implied that somehow they are stronger than I am because they got to choose if they took pain relief or not. What they neglect to understand is that I lived for 12 years with chronic pain. By the time I was prescribed opiates I was beyond having a choice. Well there was a choice, it was either be so racked  with pain that I couldn't get out of bed or have some pain relief so that I had some quality of life. Not much of a choice really.

What annoys me is the attempt to pretend to others that they have glimpsed inside my world and that it wasn't that bad. That their condition was so much worse than mine (and to be fair it probably was in the acute phase) yet they got better, as if my inability to heal my self is some kind of deep personality flaw. This high-handed attitude is incredibly insulting to everyone who deals with a long-term chronic health condition. I don't know if we in the chronic disease / condition community are perceived in this way due to the incessant media coverage where we are either brave warriors battling against our condition or undeserving scroungers / a drain on society?

To be under this intense  pressure to be "well" is akin to living life under a microscope, with your every move being watched. What people always forget is that they only see me at my "best". They don't see me when I have spent the last 18 hours stuck in bed and have taken enough morphine to heavily sedate an Elephant.

I am pleased that those that try to "out sick" me regained their health, I truly am. I will always be empathetic and compassionate towards those who have suffered the blow of ill-health be it via an acute condition or a chronic one.

If you feel the unrelenting urge to "out sick" me, please continue but don't be surprised if I don't get involved. I no longer play those silly games.


Rachel said...

Very well put Rach! Social media has become a giant competition. Who has the most friends, who gets the most likes, who belongs to the most support groups. And yes who can OUTSICK a person.

People with chronic illness have enough on their plates. The last thing we want is another "contest", we're already fighting a daily battle just to live a somewhat "normal for me" life...

Will miss your twice weekly posts, but understand completely...

Rachel Morris-McGee said...

Hi Rachel,

It is great to hear from you. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment on my blog.

I was very worried before I posted that I was the only one that saw things this way. Thankfully many people have contacted me to say "it has happened to me". Which is great, my mum had told me the same but I hadn't heard it from anyone else!

I get very cross when someone tries to do it to me. I had it recently - in my own home and how I managed not to become physically violent I will never know.

I hope you are doing ok?

Thank you for understanding about the post situation.

Rach x