Life is an illness, an illness isn’t my life.

Rosie Harrison lets us into her experiences battling chronic illness

3am, lying in bed, eyes open; my brain is alert thinking about tomorrow’s  monotonous routine: get up (despite chronic fatigue); find a way of getting to school, note to self: minimise weight of your bag to survive the walk; attend all lessons, ensure you stay awake and don’t move too much (people consider this annoying and you don’t want to discuss the pain); make excuses for missing homework (avoid saying you were in agony and couldn’t concentrate); go home- perhaps collapse (don’t cry, no time); take thousands of different medications; do work until you fall asleep.

For the rest of your life: see above.

You are born: a determined creature with no free choice of your genetics, your ‘destinies’, your mentality and physiology. We are finite and most importantly, we all have errors.

Google defines ‘illness’ as: “a disease or period of sickness affecting the body or the mind.”

Our ideas about illness stem from our experiences. Largely, our associations with illness involve pain, fatigue and discomfort. This only illustrates the physical short-term consequences of disease. Not often does one consider the effect on your character.

Have you ever taken the day off school? Work? Social commitments? I don’t mean as an “excuse”, but when your physical or mental state makes the prospect daunting, nauseating and painful to consider at all. This is the feeling you own; no one’s illness can ever be experienced exactly the same as another’s. The concept of ‘qualia’ demonstrates this feeling well. Qualia relates to occurrences of subjective and waking experience. So what is this in relation to illness? Each of our nerve cells can be seen; inflammation can be the same, scientifically speaking, across a multitude of people on an MRI scan, but this doesn’t mean you feel the same pain as other people. One’s consciousness, feeling or pain is entirely based upon your own thresholds. For example, some mothers find childbirth torturous whereas others find it comparable to shelling peas. Hence why, when you go to hospital doctors ask you the 1-10 question constantly. Our thresholds and our experiences are our own. If your chronic condition is significant to you no one has a right to dispute this as no one else has felt how you feel, when the condition is chronic, your pain is agony.

Illness: Mind over matter?

Mind over matter?

Illness is perceived as a weakness, specifically negative. It compromises normality; this is why it bothers us psychologically. My own inability to function within usual routine as a result of fibromyalgia (a chronic pain condition) means that my self-concept persists to be abnormal.

However, this is an irrational idea, firstly normality doesn’t truly exist- we are all individuals and unique, average is a construct. Secondly, our efforts to live both long and healthily are destined to fail at some point; whether this manifests itself through a cold, the flu, a condition, an infection, a terminal illness. But to consider your illness as an endless negative routine is what crushes you.

It is proven that patients’ self-perceptions largely influences the severity of their ailment, as well as the course of treatment they seek. This largely emphasises the futility of considering yourself as nothing but a disease.

You are born dead. It is the only certainty with which we all live. But that doesn’t mean that that is how you have to consider your life. The old saying of the pessimist sees the glass half empty and the optimist, half full. What about the scientist who sees it as completely full? It’s just half filled with air. If you regard your illness as incurable, unmanageable or unbearable, you will never contemplate the positives. I manage my own pain by considering my personal achievements; contemplate all you manage on top of your conditions. It’s like wading through a bog in sandals; you not only have to wade through the bog, but you’re exposed and vulnerable, unlike others who own wellies.

Rosie Harrison lets us into her experiences battling chronic illness

Perception matters

Nevertheless, something is  achieved every day. There is unimaginable difficulty in managing your state of mind with a seemingly inescapable condition, however, an optimistic (but pragmatic) mind is a healthy one.

The nature of living is that we are held back by illness. This is inevitable. But in light of all you have achieved, achieve or will achieve, don’t let illness become your life – it’s not worth it. I certainly won’t let it.