We Need to Stop Ignoring Chronic Illness

Written By: Lily Tender

During my junior year of high school, I would wake up dreading school every morning. There were a lot of reasons why, many of them normal for a sixteen-year-old: I was tired, stressed, and burnt out. But it got to the point where I was spending every day at the nurse because I needed to lay down because I felt sick or so unbelievably tired. For a while, I just thought these were the regular trials and tribulations of adolescence until I realized that most of my peers were not regularly nauseous, dizzy, fatigued and sick. 

I was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, also called POTS, a chronic illness that commonly affects women between age 15-50. Dysautonomia International describes POTS as “a form of orthostatic intolerance that is associated with the presence of excessive tachycardia and many other symptoms upon standing.” Basically, if I go from sitting to standing too quickly I can faint. But it is not just in those situations. POTS shows itself through fatigue, lightheadedness, headaches, decreased concentration, shaking, fainting, heart palpitations, coldness or pain in the extremities, nausea, chest pain and shortness of breath.  During high school though my POTS was mostly under control, unlike 25% of people who have POTS, I was able to go to school and  did not require additional support like a wheelchair. Now in college, I sometimes spend multiple nights a week feeling randomly ill and unbearably dizzy. I will cancel my plans and spend most of the day in bed. I can also have weeks where I feel totally fine and free of exhaustion. While my POTS is mostly under control, many others with chronic illness cannot say the same thing. 

About 45% of Americans suffer from at least one chronic illness. However,like mental illness, chronic illness is not taken seriously. Many people say that physical illnesses are taken much more seriously than mental illnesses, but as someone who experiences both, I do not think that is the case. Both could be considered invisible diseases. To professors and strangers, I am a healthy, outgoing, friendly teen. And while my friends and I love to joke about my terrible sleeping habits and laziness, those things, among other habits, are rooted in chronic illness. Many people ignore these symptoms, but they can be serious signs of illness. 

Chronic illness during coronavirus can be extremely anxiety-provoking. I will randomly feel extremely ill and be convinced that I have COVID-19 before realizing that my POTS is just acting up. My friends with chronic illness joke that if they get COVID-19 they are definitely going to die. And while they joke, people with chronic illnesses are a higher risk population. During times like these, and frankly any time, it is important to recognize the validity behind your friends with chronic illness anxieties. Whether they are anxious about going out—with COVID-19 safe measures— because they are worried about their illness flaring up, or because they are immunocompromised during a pandemic, they are valid and much stronger than you realize. For many with chronic illness, getting out of bed can be one of the most difficult things they can do. Be patient and understanding with your loved ones with invisible disorders and give them the same understanding you would give to someone who broke their arm.

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