The last few years of my life have been a living, breathing hell.
I was diagnosed with a severe chronic illness when I was 18, and it has only become progressively worse since.
I have attempted to describe what living with this illness as a young man is like in much of my writing, but I think I have finally come to the realization that this is an impossible task.
It is not something I can describe in detail, because so much of this experience is made up of subtleties.
Of course, there is the obvious difficulty of constantly feeling sick, but the truth is that it runs much deeper than this. Dealing with chronic illness is an existential problem. Feeling this way puts into question the very nature of one’s existence, and it does so in peculiar ways.
Chronic illness is not what people think.
This experience is such a trying affair because it makes me feel like a non-person. When someone deals with something like this for long enough, they feel like they deserve it somehow. This is a deep psychological response, and a natural reaction to unnecessary suffering.
The same thing happens to people who were abused at a young age; something in them subconsciously interprets our suffering as being inherent to their identity. This comes to manifest in various unhealthy ways.
I say “unnecessary suffering” because there are many forms of necessary suffering. Like the challenges of relationships, the ethics of hard work, struggling through academia, so on.
I watch people my age traveling, having relationships, going to school, and enjoying the fruits of Western culture. These things are not in the cards for me, and may never be.
I implore you to imagine what would feel like to be this alienated—to have a conversation with someone and know full-well that their experience is so far from yours that there is virtually nothing relatable between you. Try to imagine being totally disconnected from your entire generation, unable to just hang out and be comfortable with your peers.
This condition makes me feel like an alien, like I don’t belong anywhere. Everywhere I go feels wrong, like I am in some kind of alternate dimension. My life went down one road, and I went down another. Like I’m living the wrong life. This feeling is my normal.
But despite all this, I think strength is relative.
Someone might feel strong in one situation and totally weak in another. It has everything to do with the psychic disposition of the person and the specific dynamics of the challenge at hand. There is no easy way to measure how strong or weak a person is, because we are all capable of being a hero and being a victim.
Through my dealings with this illness, I have felt completely powerful in some moments, and torn asunder in others. There is no algorithm that can anticipate or measure the strength of a human being.
I have tried to be strong for a really long time. I have tried to stay calm and accept my situation. I have tried to stay hopeful without much outside support, but I no longer believe this to be a sustainable way to be.
The past few days, I have been making a concerted effort to tell the people in my life what I am really experiencing. I’m doing everything in my power to explain what I am going through and what I need to feel supported.
I have been resistant to this for so long. I’ve felt like because my experience is so bizarre, nobody would be able to understand what I’ve been going through. This has been confirmed by many conversations I’ve had with people who are close to me. It’s so difficult to explain what this is like, and it has become a sensitive and intimate subject for me. When people misinterpret my explanations, I take it personally.
One thing I want to say about giving advice to someone with a chronic condition is this: don’t ever say that it’s “not that bad” or downplay what the person is experiencing. The fact is, most people don’t know sh*t about the difficulties of this kind of experience, so it’s best to just take the person’s word for it.
We need to be both an established individual, and a member of a community. Finding this balance in times of pain is the true definition of strength. I need people in my life, and I need a support system if I am going to survive this illness without committing suicide.
The path of self-love and friendship is the path to getting through illness. It is an inescapable fact, and it has come time for me to act on this. I’ve known it all along, but it gets tricky along the way.
I want to have kids one day. I want a private practice. I want to travel, love, and experience all elements of this life before I meet my end. This can only happen by being truly strong—and true strength implies knowing when we need help and how to go about finding that help.
If we want to transform suffering into love, we must accept that it is impossible without being strong enough to know when we we aren’t strong.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Japhet Mast/Unsplash
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Social Editor: Emily Bartranephant
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