Disability. Disease. Chronic. Suffer from. If you have a long term health condition, you have no doubt heard these words a lot, especially if you have been through a medical healthcare system. These words are useful in the medical context, to help describe, categorise, diagnose, and then apply treatments which have been proven to help others who are similar to you.
Unfortunately, these terms tend to get over-used outside of the medical context — in the context of people’s everyday lives, in our interactions with others, and in our thoughts. I first considered this after watching Aimee Mullins’ TED talk on the opportunity of adversity. It made me pay attention to the words we use to describe the situations we find ourselves in, whether that involves pain, fatigue, degrees of immobility, skin rashes, whatever it is. Understandably, the words we use almost always ring of the negative, of loss, of barriers and obstacles in our way.
What if we change the language that we use? What if, instead of thinking of our conditions as deducting something from our lives, but adding something to it?
This is where I realised that people with long term conditions actually have something valuable as a result of their experiences, which most people don’t have. It may be adaptability, resilience, greater empathy, a better perspective on what’s important in life, the knowledge that you’re still here despite extreme adversity which most people can’t even imagine. Whatever it is, its a unique super power, shaped by your unique experiences. Think about what your super powers are.
It may not seem like a super power right now. It may feel like you’re fighting an invisible foe, a shadow, one which only you know about, every day, with no recognition or awards. People you’re around may have no idea of the little battles you fight each day. But think about that — who else does that?
Superheroes. You’re an everyday superhero.
This frames the entire philosophy behind my startup, CPSidekick.com — allowing people with chronic pain and fatigue to change how they see their pain. Pain is an unpleasant sensation, and that will never change. But our reaction to pain doesn’t have to be. By accepting pain as it is, and letting go of our desire for it to be different, we can even learn to view chronic pain as something that can teach us something valuable, something to welcome without aversion or hatred.