When You're Chronically Ill, Peer Pressure Takes On A New Meaning

by Kim Mirowsky for The Mighty
chronically ill
Kaspars Grinvalds / Shutterstock

We all learn about peer pressure as children. They teach us how not to take part, how not to give in, how to help, how to notice, how to report it, etc. They teach us consequences, and they focus these lessons on us while we are in school (elementary, middle, high school, college) — but then the lessons come to a halt. As adults, we are expected to know better, be better, and ultimately care less about what others think.

I’ve had fibromyalgia and been living in chronic pain for almost 10 years, and I was also diagnosed with lupus a few months ago. No one taught me that when you’re chronically ill, the peer pressure doesn’t go away, and it actually gets worse.

There is always a reason to feel bad about your actions. You cancel too many plans, and you make plans that you end up canceling. You start telling doctors what they want to hear instead of the truth. Your list of activities that you can do keeps getting shorter. You go out with your friends, but you are the first one to leave. You’re exhausted all the time and don’t want to do anything. The list can go on and on. There is always someone you feel like you are letting down, whether it be your boyfriend/girlfriend, your spouse, your best friends, your classmates, or your neighbors. But the ultimate person you feel like you are letting down is yourself.

To the person in chronic pain, you will constantly feel bad. You will constantly try to make up for it. You will go through with plans that you know that you can’t handle that day and you will pay for it. You know that no matter the number of apologies you give out, it will feel like it’s not enough. This is where the weight of the world comes into play. But we don’t want to play, we want to win. We want to win and be strong.

It’s a huge amount of pressure to be someone you’re not. Each day, you have to walk around like everything is fine and try to act like everyone else. You are now carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. I will tell you this: Don’t try to be like everyone else — because you aren’t like everyone else. You are stronger than you even know you are. I know what it feels like. Going to work each day with a smile on my face hiding the pain beneath the surface — I am strong! Life is tough but so are you, and never forget that.

To the person who does carry that pressure and weight of the world on your shoulders: Don’t feel bad. Take care of you, no matter what that means you must do. If you need to cancel plans, that’s okay. If you need to give out disclosures about not staying long, it’s okay. Don’t pressure yourself to be like everyone else because you aren’t like everyone else. You may be chronically ill, but you are unbelievably strong.

That weight and pressure will never go away because we may see our illness or condition as an inconvenience to others. But don’t forget that it’s inconveniencing you, too. You don’t deserve to feel bad when that pressure and weight of the world plop themselves on your shoulders. Remember that you are strong enough to shove them off!