Being a young adult with chronic illness is difficult.
Chronic illness is always complicated and hard, so I do not mean to diminish the struggle of those with chronic illness that are not young adults. However, being ill as a young adult raises unique challenges.
As a chronically ill young adult, I’ve experienced and processed many of these challenges. I thought that I might try to share a few of them with you.
My hope is that I can encourage other young adults who are struggling to feel less alone, as well as to educate those who are not familiar with chronic illness.
Here’s the thing: I cannot do what our culture expects young adults to do.
Young adults are supposed to be at the peak of physical fitness. They push their physical limits because they can. Which is awesome (usually). This is the time in life when many of my fellow young adults are taking up running or lifting because their bodies are capable of the best. Others who are slightly less driven are pulling all-nighters just for the heck of it.
Because they can.
This is not my reality, which is frustrating. I have spent the years where my body was supposed to be at its best stuck in doctor’s offices, urgent cares, and hospitals all across the Midwest.
Pretending that my body was capable of “normal” things always had excruciatingly painful repercussions.
Does this make me weak? Society says “yes”.
The generic mold that young adults in America are expected to conform to includes graduating from high-school, probably working part-time, getting a bachelor’s degree, and then getting a full-time job.
I tried college. But it turns out that college and being chronically ill work against each other pretty severely.
Currently I am not a student and I am unemployed.
There’s a lot that people don’t see. Juggling doctor’s appointments can feel like a part-time job by itself. Taking a shower can feel like running a marathon. An hour of productivity can take days to recover from.
This is reality for so many young adults who cannot work.
Does that make me lazy? Society says “yes”.
First, I need to be super clear about one thing. I have some wonderful, selfless people who have stuck by me through all the hardships of my illness. I am in no way trying to criticize them. However, I think even they would admit that my illness complicates all my relationships in some way. My illness is not my identity, but it creeps into every aspect of my life.
Chronic illness is generally isolating.
Having friends, keeping friends, and being a friend is hard for young adults with chronic illness.
I cancel a lot of plans because of my illness. I forget to text back because of brain fog. I can’t always be there for you. This is my reality.
Does that make me a bad friend? Society says “yes”.
I will likely never live my life like a “normal” young adult.
But here’s the other thing: That’s 100% okay.
My strength is not measured strictly by physical ability.
My value does not come from a degree or a job.
My happiness is not dependent on people.
My life is different because of my illness, but different is not a death sentence. This is a chance for me to be creative and strong as a young adult, overcoming the unique struggles that my illness brings.
For today, that means I got out of bed and ran my marathon. I did my best. And I am very grateful for the patient people who are standing by my side until my best can be more than that.