Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Does Chronic Illness Make Us Less Concerned About Acute Sickness?

Yesterday I had a discussion with a friend about sickness and illness. Which, as a mental health and chronic illness advocate, is far from unusual. But this particular discussion was about acute illnesses - communicable sicknesses such as stomach viruses and flus - and avoiding them.  It occurred to me, and then was said out loud by me because my filtering mechanism is not strong, that compared to a lot of people these days, I appear rather unconcerned about this kind of thing.

Don't get me wrong, if I know you have a stomach virus, I'm not jumping up and down to share your drink or anything that may obviously make my chances of getting said virus greater.  I take appropriate precaution not to catch something if I know someone is sick or a virus is "going around". Nobody, including myself, wants the flu or a stomach virus or anything of the like.  I equally get all necessary prescriptions and vaccinations needed when traveling overseas - I don't want malaria or Typhoid fever any more than the next woman. But when everyone's seemingly un-contagious and I'm not in a third world country, I'm not a person who particularly worries about the "what if".  For instance, the gym is a pretty gross and sweaty place. Money is passed through who knows how many hands before it reaches you. You don't know who last sat on that seat at the restaurant. But I am generally not too phased by this. (Exception: rashes of any kind including poison ivy/oak/sumac, or even the slightest possibility of them, make me run screaming like a three-year old for some reason).

I got to thinking: why is this? I've had some pretty rough illnesses in my life including scarlet fever, shingles, German measles, mono, Epstein barre, and encephalitis that spawned from (apparently) a very basic cold or virus that worked itself into my brain. One would think I'd be overly cautious. But upon further reflection, I think I began to understand.

I've had cyclothymia since birth. I'll have it until the day I die. It is a genetic condition and nothing that I, or anyone else, could have done would have changed that.  It is obviously not communicable, aside from being genetically passed down, and I don't think that counts. And no matter what I do, or don't do, I will have this condition. Always. 'Til death do us part.  Furthermore, my cycles are rather haphazard (or so it appears to me). While mood cycling can be aggravated by things such as lack of sleep, too much caffeine or alcohol, or stressful situations, and it can be helped by medication and healthy lifestyle choices, I cannot prevent myself completely from cycling, nor control when it occurs or whether I'll be hypomanic or depressive when it does hit.

There are days when getting out of bed, getting showered and dressed takes everything I have physically, emotionally, mentally.  Then, I get to go about my day pretending nothing's wrong, when it feels like everything is. And so, on days when this isn't the case, when I'm not in the middle of a depressive episode, I quite simply don't want to think about being sick, or potentially being sick, or anything even remotely related to sick.  In fact, I want to scream from the rooftops, "Check me out, I'm still here! Take that, depression, you S.O.B, you didn't win that round!"  On the days when I feel well, I want to enjoy life with as little worry as possible, because soon enough, I won't be able to. Nothing I can do, no precaution I can take, can stop me from eventually cycling into depression again. As much as this sounds like it sucks - and believe me, it does - there's also a bit of a calm that comes when you realize that its reoccurrence is not your fault, and that more or less, spending all of your good days worrying about when the bad will take hold is a waste of the precious positive, happy energy you have on those days. And maybe I subconsciously apply that thought process to all illness. I've never particularly thought about it until now, but I guess with my mess of a brain it makes sense.

Perhaps this lack of concern over acute sickness is reckless. To clarify (as I'm a pretty big believer in karma and don't want to stick my foot in my mouth here) I'm by no means saying that the stomach flu or anything similar is "no big deal." Because I had a stomach virus this past winter and it &%*%ing sucked. I sat on the bathroom floor hugging the toilet "praying" in my Buddhist way for something, anything to make me feel better. So please, don't get the wrong impression. I completely understand why people are concerned about acute sickness and take all precautions they deem necessary.  More, I wondered why I didn't fall under this category, being so involved in the world of illness and all.

So I'm curious how others with chronic illness feel about the topic. Does having a chronic illness make you more concerned about acute sickness? Or do you fall more into the "I might as well enjoy it while I can, because I'll be sick again soon enough" category?  As always comments welcome below. 

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