**This article was first published on Positivity in Pain**
As a young(ish) person with a chronic, disabling and at one point potentially life threatening illness, I’ve often felt hard done by or cheated. You grow up with this idea of what normal is. It involves school, college, a career, getting married, kids, going on holiday/vacation, having a few hobbies, yadda yadda. It doesn’t involve your life imploding from a life limiting disease in your teens or twenties. But to really live well with illness, I think it’s helpful to be able to see things from multiple angles which includes seeing the good in being young and sick. So here are some wild generalisations backed up with very little science on why I think being young and sick has it’s advantage points.
1. Coping with Change
Young people (might) cope with change better than older people. And there’s no bigger change than going from being well, to being unwell. Especially if it means having to change direction in your career or losing it altogether, losing major hobbies and probably losing a few friends too. According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, personal illness is in the top 10 stressful life events that ironically contribute to illness. Other items up there at the top are marriage breakdowns, losing your job and a change in financial status, all of which are common in those who become severely chronically ill. But it’s quite normal for people in their twenties to go through a lot of changes, starting a new career, moving home, different partners or getting married, having kids. The 20s are a time of flux anyway, even without chronic illness, so perhaps we’re just better equipped to deal with it?
2. Symptoms get taken seriously
When I got severely sick I was 27. I had over 50 symptoms and a lot of them resembled dementia. I was convinced that if I had been over 60 they would’ve said it was normal old age and the beginnings of dementia, hard luck, no more investigations. But because I was in my twenties, bedridden and forgetting how to turn taps on, this rung alarm bells and doctors took my illness more seriously. I had doctors get huge textbooks out in front of me trying to get to the bottom of it all. In the end they couldn’t figure it out but I did it myself with the help of the internet. I also learned a lot about doctors appointments from my own research, and from reading about other’s experiences.
I probably wouldn’t have been able to find out what was wrong without me without my internet skillz – and then found how to get tested and doctor who could help. Skillz. That’s what young people say, right? Oh dear. I’m hitting 30 and clearly losing my grasp on youth. Sick Yo. Wicked. Soon I’ll be doing ‘dad-dancing’ and starting sentences with ‘In my day….’ e.g IN MY DAY the internet wasn’t around, I remember having to go to the library to find out the answers to my banal questions like why do guinea pigs have whiskers. I would’ve had no chance of coming across my supposedly rare, complex and controversial set of infectious diseases. (Spoiler: I have Lyme disease, Babesiosis and a bunch of others.)
We’re lucky to be living in an age where we can connect with people across the world from our homes and get something resembling social interaction without even getting out of our PJs. Young people are (probably, generally, maybe) better with technology and so we can fully utilise everything the internet has to offer. The fact that we tend to just use it for selfies and videos of funny cats is irrelevant. 😉
From patient support forums, symptom checkers, ordering medication online, researching conditions and potential doctors, the internet has it all. You can start a business online, do educational courses,
stalk your exes make new friends. The world and technology is constantly changing and you’re in the perfect position to take full advantage of it, you have the time, you have the skills, the internet is your oyster! Unless you have an oyster allergy, in which case it can be your seafood of choice.
I banged on about the joys of the internet more fully in another post here.
4. Appreciation earlier
The thing about being incredibly sick is that it tends to change your perspective on life. You suddenly realise what’s really important, what matters and who your real friends are. Once you learn to appreciate what you have you become a much happier person and you can get so much more out of life. If you have these realisations sooner rather than later, you’ve got the rest of your life to be this new and improved person. You’re learning important life lessons that most people don’t learn until much later and that’s invaluable. Just imagine, you can have the wisdom of older people, but still have the vocabulary and coolness of a younger person! Full of win! (I totally got that one right, didn’t I?)