Hooo boy. Illness. It is quite the ice breaker at a party. When I meet a new person I like to tell them at least once that I have a life- threatening lung condition. Sometimes I like to chat about the four different types of broad-spectrum potent antibiotics I’m on at any one time. If I feel like I’ve really gelled with a person I might tell them all about the inner-workings of my diabetic pancreas, too.
Wait, come back! Where are you going? I was just getting started.
And there you have it; how not to talk to people about your health in public! How people with an illness identify with their health is a complex and ever changing thing – as with any aspect of our identity. Some people refuse to acknowledge their condition in all but the most private circumstances. Others proudly self-identify as disabled or ‘ill’, outside of any necessary legal context.
So how do you build a healthy relationship between your illness and your identity?
It’s a never-ending balancing act. 2017 for me, was the unofficial year of openness. I discussed my illness with more people in more contexts, more often. It was really weird sometimes. Instead of glossing over the hundreds of tiny moments in every day when I’m reminded of my condition, I actually voiced them out loud. While this didn’t always come naturally (and is not always appropriate or important) I was doing it on purpose.
I believe strongly that those with a health condition should feel able to tell someone about it and to say when or how they need help. I knew too many people with a chronic illness who were afraid to speak out; afraid of applying for a job because of it in some cases, afraid of losing the job they already had in others.
Talking about my condition so openly was my weapon against this unspoken taboo around health that exists in our culture. Don’t even get me started on the damaging political and social ramifications of this (see: every comment and subsequent policy the Conservatives have introduced on illness and disability in Britain thus far).
But believing something in theory is not quite the same as living it. It is easy to get caught up wondering about how differently people perceive me, based on whether they know about my CF or not. Just because I write under a provocatively-titled blog doesn’t mean I actually identify as ‘sick’ or ‘ill’ at all.
Professional Sick Girl was never meant to be a typical illness blog. This is a place where I experiment with talking about illness in different ways.
Whether it is talking about hypoglycaemia as just another instance of brain fog in a meeting, or using Disney princesses to bring some humour to the humdrum reality of treatment, I want people to feel that illness is a subject they can read about. Maybe even one they talk to people about in real life.
As a nation, we are not well. Whether that comes down to lifestyle-related disease, inherited illness, poor mental health, or all of the above, we continue to put a mask on it. Constantly unsure of how to manage the uncomfortable relationship between our health and our identity. In this sense, we are all living a Jekyll and Hyde life; some of us are just closer to acknowledging it than others.