It’s never easy to find out you have a chronic illness.
It’s a huge thing that changes your life in so many ways.
It’s also never welcome news, no matter what stage of life you’re in.
But when someone finds out as a young adult that they’re going to be dealing with a chronic illness, they face additional challenges that older people and children don’t when receiving a similar life-changing conversation with a doctor.
This difference in life stage can make the adjustment and the grieving process extra hard. This difficulty is so unwelcome, too, given all of the other energy being sucked out of you during this time.
So, we’re here to help you conceptualize some of that difficulty, give you some language, and validate some of those feelings, so you can prepare and get the support you need.
Here are some unique struggles experienced by young adults dealing with Chronic Illness in St. Louis
1. Everyone Expects You To Be Well Because You’re Young
Health gets connected with age all the time. If people are old, we expect them to be sick and feeble. But when someone is young and dealing with illness it’s a different story.
Young people dealing with chronic illnesses are almost blamed, as if they did something wrong to be dealing with illness at their age. But illness can hit anyone, at any age. Certain things hit us harder when we’re older, but that doesn’t mean age is the only factor.
Even though you’re living your own reality, you might still struggle with the idea of being a sick younger person, too. Your self-image and identity were wrapped up in being young, healthy, and active. You planned to engage in everything St. Louis has to offer. So when this changes, it can cause a major shift in your self-perception.
It may bring up questions around self-worth; confidence; where to go from here; and so much more. If you don’t have the energy you’re “supposed to” at your age, how do you explain that to peers and family? How do you yourself cope with it? How do you figure out what changes in lifestyle and daily routine make the most sense for you? All of these are really good questions to consider. They also are things to give yourself room to have in conversations with parents, other family members, your healthcare team, friends, and even a therapist.
2. You Often Have Fewer Resources
Ideally, as an individual progresses through adulthood, they acquire more security. They hopefully have a more stable job and have access to decent benefits. Their relationship with their networks is solid and they can access help from your community.
You, as a young adult often haven’t had time to create this security. You’re moving between jobs, or maybe are just at the start of your professional trajectory. You’re still accruing things like PTO and other benefits. You don’t have great credit. And, in the United States, illness can often be insanely expensive.
So getting sick at this stage in life is financially as well as physically frightening. It’s yet another layer of stress, which can exacerbate symptoms on a bad day (or heck, even a good one!). Even if someone has enough resources saved up to deal with a chronic health issue, it could wipe out that savings, and maybe even a little hope about what that savings was supposed to be for. It can lead to feelings of having to “start over” which can mess with your psyche.
3. You’re Trying To Establish Yourself
This stage in life is full of pressure about making the right choices for your future. This might mean figuring out which career path you want to follow or deciding who you want to have a romantic relationship with.
A chronic illness adds another level of stress. When you want to be making these big choices, you’re having to focus most of your energy on your health. Or, you’re having to consider what 1 year, 3 years, or even 5 years might have to look like. You feel like your choices have shifted, and not from within your locus of control.
Or, in an effort, to not let your chronic illness hold you back, you don’t make any adjustments to pace, daily habits, etc. Despite signs from your body to slow down, you feel like you have to “keep up”---with your goals; with your peers; with others’ expectations of you. That can lead to things like pushing yourself too hard or not resting when you really need it.
4. You Can't Relate To Your Peers
While your friends are out looking for jobs, taking trips, starting projects, and building their lives in St. Louis, you’re stuck dealing with medical appointments, therapies, and the symptoms of your illness. Your life is so much different from your peers that you may feel very disconnected.
This can be very lonely, especially in a moment when you may need a lot of support.
Your friends might pull away from you, too. Often, this isn’t a lack of caring. They care about you but don’t know to help. This is uncomfortable, so they put some distance between you. It’s important to be honest with them to try to keep them in your life so you have a solid support system. If you have tangible ways they can help it may make things easier. And it’s okay to just tell them that you really need them to be around. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Young adults dealing with chronic illnesses have many challenges to overcome that are unique to their particular stage in life. These can be both physically and emotionally challenging and may require lots of extra support from their community.