You can't DIY chronic illness

Last updated 05:00 01/06/2014

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I'm 21, and I've been living with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, arthritic complications and a mishmash of related illnesses for six years.

In this time, I've noticed just how strong a DIY mentality a lot of New Zealanders have. If something is broken, fix it. If you have injured yourself, whack a bandage on it and get on with your day.

If you have been bitten by a shark, swim to shore, wrap it up, and go down to the pub (we all remember that guy!).

However, when it comes to a disability or illness that is harder to pinpoint, people are sceptics. Can't see it? It doesn't exist.

Most people I come into contact with absolutely love having their say when it comes to my illness. It's kind of like playing chronic pain bingo - the amount of times I've heard variations of "Have you taken some paracetamol?"; "Have you tried yoga? I've heard that fixes stuff like that"; "But you look fine"; "Stay positive, you'll get over it!"; and my least favourite: "Oh, I know how you feel, I'm tired too."

I know most of these come from people who mean well, but it does not translate that way to someone who has been sick for years and has tried everything under the sun.

Chronic illness isn't something you can take a certain pill for, or will go away if you do a certain yoga pose.

I've taken to telling people I have arthritis, it's a total umbrella term and doesn't even scratch the surface of the other stuff happening to my body, but it's a word that people can understand.

Even though at 21, I almost always get, "but isn't arthritis an old person's disease?", it's better than having to explain every single detail of my illnesses.

Chronic illness is difficult, misunderstood and multi-faceted. If you know someone who suffers from a chronic illness or disease, I highly recommend you sit down with them and just ask them to tell you about it. There's no point in loading up on assumptions about it, as it differs completely from person to person.

Remember, just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it does not exist.

Do not deny a person's valid emotions and suffering. 

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