What is Chronic Illness?
A chronic condition is a human health condition or disease that is persistent or otherwise long-lasting in its effects or a disease that comes with time.
In early 2014, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto, a seemingly harmless auto immune disorder not heard of much in India commonly. I was already in Stage 2 by then, which meant, this had been it in my system for more than two years now. Over a period of time apart from progressing to stage 3 it has opened a Pandora’s Box in my life. Each day is a surprise with new symptoms, new reactions leading to new actions. This pushed me to understand my illness and its co-relation with my mental health with an aim to heal myself, but what I discovered was something entirely different.
It is then that I understood, how our culture actually pushes women to ignore their health, to an extent that when the damage is discovered, it is beyond repair. I have grown up witnessing my mother and aunts often advising me and my sisters to not act like a ‘delicate darling’. My sister, let’s call her A, got unusually painful periods. But instead of exploring it medically for some issue, she was always chided for being a work shrinker at home. ‘It’s all in your head’, being their favourite justification for any ailment. Decades later, I was sitting before a doctor who used the same words for my failing health, because autoimmune disorders can often go undiagnosed for years in a country like mine and hence, he couldn’t see anything wrong with my health.
It is then that I understood, how our culture actually pushes women to ignore their health, to an extent that when the damage is discovered, it is beyond repair. I have grown up witnessing my mother and aunts often advising me and my sisters to not act like a ‘delicate darling’.
Back at home, my mom and my aunts couldn’t eat before the men folk, no matter what their condition was. The ability to say ‘No’ for something as simple as cooking dinner was missing largely. With the passage of time, I saw how each one of them had developed some or the other ailment resulting in chronic pain apart from having mental health issues. Unfortunately, none of them took it seriously or thought of any co-relation, well because, conditioning!
They are conditioned to believe that they can never come first. Their priority always has to be their house, husbands, children and family. Everything about them their dreams, desires, wants and needs were of no importance. When I tried breaking this cycle by pushing my mother to say “no”, when she wasn’t well enough to cook or do something she enjoyed, it always backlashed into a huge guilt trip resulting into an emotional breakdown further adding to the already poor health.
It didn’t take me long to realize how all these were indirectly responsible for my failing health too. Having an invisible chronic illness means, you are constantly being scrutinized, judged and often misunderstood. Added to it is this predilection towards females. I sometimes have spent a lot of sleepless nights in a row as a hyperactive mind is a side-effect of this condition. All it takes is one random thought, to render me sleepless for the whole night. Some days getting up from the bed seems like a chore. Every inch of your body screams in pain. Constant memory fogs challenge your movements. Any kind of interaction becomes a challenge, leave alone managing day to day routine activities. It tends to get extremely lonely at times.
The New Beginning
I was fortunate to come across Chronic Pain India, during this phase of my life. They are working towards spreading awareness about chronic illness. They formed a closed support group on Facebook. This was one of their many attempts at providing support, to chronic pain illness sufferers. Chronic Pain India is the brain child of Dr. Anubha Mahajan, who is a pain warrior herself. Amongst fellow pain warriors, I found solidarity here like none other. As this support group reassured me that I was not alone in this journey. Dr. Anubha Mahajan – Founder, Chronic Pain India
It is in random conversations and discussions with Dr. Mahajan, that I understood Chronic Pain in depth. According to a study 61% people that were coming to primary health centre were coming for pain. She further shared, “Women also tend to develop suicidal tendencies, because of being constantly in pain. Just because it is invisible, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!” Her words to me, were a solace. For it meant someone out there understood how I felt and what I felt. That silent bond of understanding was enough to sail through some of the darkest times.
According to a study 61% people that were coming to primary health centre were coming for pain. She further shared, “Women also tend to develop suicidal tendencies, because of being constantly in pain. Just because it is invisible, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!”
In our society, it is high time that women learn to prioritize their health. They need to know that, “It is okay to care for your health and that doesn’t make you selfish“. Regular checkups should be a part of our routine along with proper medical guidance. Women need to let go of this social conditioning and undo the lessons which are harmful for their health. At the end of the day, our health is in our hands.
Today, looking back I realise, how much our upbringing matters. We are taught to love but never taught how to stop when it begins to hurt. We are taught to care for others. But are never taught, to extend that same love, care and respect for ourselves. It is time to get rid of such stereotypical mindset and redefine life!
Featured Image Source: Tricycle-The Buddhist Review