I am currently being treated for pneumonia— for the fifth time in two years.
I have chronic bronchitis. This means that I get lung infections much more easily than the average person. Throughout my life, it has not been uncommon to get bronchitis eight to 12 times a year or pneumonia a few times.
Chronic bronchitis is prevalent in smokers, but mine comes as a result of 15 years of being constantly exposed to secondhand smoke. It is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.
I always have a deep, barky cough. If the air quality is bad on a certain day, I can’t go outside. A virus that is just a common cold for someone else confines me to my bed for a week because, in addition to having chronic bronchitis, I am immunocompromised. My lungs can’t fight off a common cold by themselves.
I do everything I can to try to stay healthy. I work out five times a week, eat well and take vitamins.
New doctors don’t take me seriously because otherwise healthy 22-year-old women don’t typically have chronic bronchitis, so I always end up much sicker than if I had been taken seriously right away.
This also means that I usually end up missing quite a bit of class and work. Thankfully at Iowa State, I have been lucky in that a majority of my professors are understanding and help me adapt to my illness.
Not everyone is as lucky as me. Many people don’t take chronic illness seriously because they have a narrow understanding of it.
“I recovered from the cold going around just fine, so why shouldn’t you?”
“It’s just a cold, power through.”
“You’ll be back to normal in a couple days.”
“Stop being a baby.”
These are all things that I have been told by miscellaneous people in the last two weeks.
I am a perfectionist. I don’t want to be bedridden for two weeks, missing class and work. I don’t want to have to choose to not do an assignment because I simply don’t have the energy. And yet, that is my reality.
I am terrified that I will end up at a job where my employer isn’t as understanding as my professors have been— that I will get fired the first time I get sick and have to miss two weeks of work even though I’m a hard worker and good at what I do.
The last thing I want is for people to feel bad for me. Don’t take pity on me; just listen to my story and the stories of others with chronic illness.
Like I said, I’m lucky. I graduated high school on time and with good grades; I’m graduating college on time and with good grades. Many people suffering from chronic illness don’t have those luxuries.
All I ask is that you try to understand that our bodies don’t work the same way yours does. Ask us questions. Don’t make your own assumptions about us.
I want to create healthy conversations about chronic illness. Just because you can’t see my disability doesn’t mean it’s not there.