Why Is It Taboo To Talk About Illness?
There’s an old adage that tells us there are certain things we don’t talk about in polite conversation: religion and politics.
I’ve never been great at polite conversation.
There’s also a quote from the (best show of all time) Buffy The Vampire Slayer that eloquently states: “Tact is just not saying true stuff. I’ll pass.” Because I am an adult with a job, I understand that tact is often necessary in various situations, like in a professional meeting, or at the DMV. But in conversations with friends and family (or the ENTIRE INTERNET, hi guys), I like to think we can all let loose a little and say the true stuff.
And in addition to the squirmy topics of religion and politics, I would like to pose one more: illness.
Illness is not a comfortable thing to discuss because, like politics and religion, it’s personal. Talking about your experiences opens you up to judgment, which is a terrifying and vulnerable thing. I started this blog because writing is my personal catharsis, but sharing such specific details of my life does come with a certain amount of self-consciousness. Will this change how people see me? Will this affect opportunities in my life because I am now publicly putting myself out there as “the sick girl?” Will people quietly judge, and think I’m doing this for attention?
These are all great reasons not to talk about your illness, and just hole up with Netflix and your doctor’s phone number and try to deal with it solo. But the thing is, I’ve tried that. I’ve tried pretending the sickness isn’t there, and that I can do all the same things a perfectly healthy person can do. I’ve tried not talking about it so I don’t make anyone feel awkward or uncomfortable. And you know what? It felt super lonely. You can’t live your life in a bubble of cats and books and denial. (Just kidding–– that sounds great? Maybe just remove the denial part and talk to some friends about how you’re feeling. Keep the cats and books.)
But since I recently started talking publicly and openly about my illness, I have come across a million and one better reasons that you absolutely should talk about it. I’ve gotten supportive messages from friends and family. I’ve had old acquaintances and friends of friends reach out with stories of their own chronic illness struggles. I’ve gotten powerful advice and kind words and all kinds of encouragement. I’ve gotten, to appropriate a book title, the opposite of loneliness.
In sharing my experience, I am simply trying to normalize it. In sharing a photo of me getting a biologic infusion, or me in a hospital gown prepping for a procedure, I am not seeking attention or pity. The truth is, there are millions of people out there who spend a lot of their free time at the doctor, or the hospital, or the Walgreens picking up their latest prescription. And if we don’t recognize those stories, and talk about them, they become even weirder and more taboo. So I’ll take one for the team and tell my stories–– plus, I find hospital gowns to be really slimming.
And it’s nice to know there are others out there sharing those stories too, and educating their friends and family on their day-to-day experiences of being ill. On a day when my symptoms don’t allow me to do what I like to call “normal people stuff,” the stories of others going through something similar comfort me. Not because they’re struggling–– in an ideal world, we would all be as healthy as that lady who lived to be 110 drinking only Dr. Pepper–– but because they’re getting through. Like me, they’ve got some stuff holding them back, but they’re getting through in spite of it all. And when you’re up with insomnia watching CNN at 3 AM, it’s kind of cool to know there’s a network of other people out there, whisper-yelling at the pundits with you.