Are you ashamed to be ill?

In our competitive society, chronic infirmity or illness is viewed as a personal failing rather than the random stroke of fate that it is ~  Angelika Byczkowski

I recently spotted a post on the Kevin MD blog writen by Angelika Byczkowski, a patient with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, group of inherited disorders marked by extremely loose joints, hyperelastic skin that bruises easily, and easily damaged blood vessels. Originally published on Inspire with the title Embarassed To Be Sick, Byczkowski argues that in today’s society chronic illness is viewed as a personal failing.

With cancer being viewed increasingly as a chronic illness, I thought it would be interesting to probe this further in Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer, and explore your thoughts on the topic.

Byczkowski points to all the things her illness has taken from her starting with her income and career fulfillment and success.

I am ashamed of being sick.  I spent my previous life trying to prove how tough I was, declared my independence early, made my own way successfully, and now I’ve lost it all.

She notes that when one’s illness is temporary, there is understanding and sympathy, but woe betide you if you are diagnosed with a chronic illness for then people “become impatient and distant and I detect an undercurrent of belief that I must have done something to deserve this – something they can avoid doing.”

I see some interesting parallels with cancer in this. Being diagnosed with cancer once may be regarded as a misfortune by society; twice looks like carelessness (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde).  As a society we want to believe that we can control our destiny (and our health) and those of us who “fail” at this are labelled “victims”and “sufferers”. It’s a bleak indictment of our society and while a part of me really wants to believe this is not how society views those with incurable illness, an even larger part wants to believe this is not how the person views themselves.

And leaving cancer aside, this same attitude extends to those who are experiencing infertility, those who deal with depression and other mental health issues.  There is a lot to question and explore in this topic and as always I am really interested to hear your view.