by Nia G.
Fact Checked by:
Jennifer Chesak, MSJ
by Nia G.
Fact Checked by:
Jennifer Chesak, MSJ
Living with chronic illness has made me aware of the many ways that society views chronic illness differently than they view acute illness.
People living with chronic illnesses and disabilities face many barriers when it comes to society’s understanding and inclusion. Society has different expectations for people living with chronic illnesses than they do for those navigating acute illnesses.
It’s hard to understand why this is the case because the main difference is duration.
It feels as if, overall, we as a society offer greater patience and understanding toward people experiencing short-term illnesses.
Sometimes I’ve found that it feels like people are able to offer more empathy toward those going through short-term illness yet struggle to be empathetic toward the chronically ill.
Part of the stigma and lack of understanding that those of us with chronic illnesses face may be caused by society’s emphasis on productivity, goal setting, and go-getting. While an acute illness may only affect your productivity for a short time, a chronic illness has long lasting effects. Being unproductive is often viewed as a weakness.
When you are chronically ill, being productive may not look the same as it does for others.
It’s important to remember that nobody’s worth is defined by their “productivity” or their physical abilities. People with acute illnesses and chronic illnesses deserve to be treated with kindness, empathy, and understanding.
People who are affected by an acute illness are encouraged to rest and recuperate in order to get back to feeling like themselves. Their rest is seen as necessary for the healing process.
However, the chronically ill are often deemed lazy when they’re resting. Their rest is viewed as unnecessary.
Perhaps this is because, with acute illness, rest is usually conducive to recovery, and recovery is seen as a goal worth working toward.
But with chronic illness, recovery is not an option. Therefore people may not understand the need to rest when it can’t make the illness go away.
People with acute illnesses are not expected to work. In fact, they may be encouraged to stay at home to avoid transmitting any contagious acute illness to others.
However, if someone cannot work due to a chronic illness, this is often seen as a sign of not trying hard enough or using it as an excuse when it should be just as valid a reason as an acute illness to refrain from working.
Acute illness is often seen as an inevitability that cannot be helped. Yet people with chronic illnesses are often questioned about what they did to contribute to developing their chronic illness.
Many are told that it was their lifestyle, diet, or stress level that caused their illness. In reality, the onset of a chronic illness is often as unavoidable and uncontrollable as acute illness.
People with acute illness are often treated with compassion and understanding, whereas the chronically ill face judgment. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that most people have been acutely ill at some point in their lives, while many have not been chronically ill.
Sadly, I’ve found that some people struggle to extend compassion to someone going through a situation they have not personally experienced.
Many people offer to help their acutely ill friends with chores, groceries, and food.
Helping someone with a chronic illness do such tasks may be seen as enabling their “lazy” or “attention-seeking” behavior. It is also often seen as a burden rather than an act of love or caring.
Nobody expects a person to cook an organic meal from scratch while they have the flu. However, chronically ill people who lack the energy to cook are often told that unhealthy eating is the reason they are sick.
Of course, eating a balanced diet and organic food has health benefits and may help alleviate some chronic illness symptoms. Still, cooking organic food requires energy and money that many chronically ill people do not have.
When someone states that they have an acute illness, people usually don’t use their appearance to doubt the severity of their illness. But chronically ill people are often told they can’t possibly feel that bad because they “don’t look sick.”
The existence of acute illnesses should remind us that illnesses of all kinds are not always visible.
When someone is acutely ill, workplaces are generally more understanding than they are when someone is chronically ill. For people who are chronically ill, accommodations are often viewed as inconvenient and costly for employers.
We should not be viewing access this way.
Chronically ill and disabled employees should always have the opportunity to access the accommodations they need to feel supported at work.
This is a key point. While someone with an acute illness is often believed outright, someone with a chronic illness is often doubted.
With more than 53% of U.S. adults living with a chronic condition, it can be surprising that there’s still so much stigma around chronic illness.
The statistic does not seem to align with society’s attitude or willingness to provide support to the chronically ill and disabled community.
Hopefully, in the future, people will treat those with chronic illnesses with the same consideration and compassion that they offer to those with acute illnesses.
Hopefully, one day, people with chronic illnesses will receive the support and care they deserve. For now, I am passionate about bringing attention to the ways that people with chronic illnesses are treated differently than people with acute illnesses.
Fact checked on November 04, 2022
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About the author
Nia is a chronic illness and disability advocate from the United Kingdom. Living with many conditions herself, Nia founded The Chronic Notebook platform on Instagram in 2019, now with 18K followers and growing. Since then, she has used The Chronic Notebook across online channels to spread awareness and educate others on issues around chronic illness and disability. In 2020, Nia won the ASUS Enter Your Voice Competition, receiving a grant to fund projects related to her work. Nia continues to work with charities and companies with illness and disability as their core focus.