The Hippo In the Room (The Invisible Disease)

The Hippo
When you are a person who suffers from a chronic medical condition you carry it with you where ever you go.  It's not like a library book where you check it out and return it on it's due date or a daycare that you can just drop off and pick up at the end of the day.  It is something that travels with you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Even if you are in remission, there is always that nagging worry that it will come back some day.  You are never free from it's burden.  Even if you have an disease/condition that is not physically obvious to other people, it is always glaringly obvious to you.  Like Sting, every move you make, every step you take it is not only watching you, but living and breathing inside of you.  (And it also knows when your smiles are fake as a result of the pain.)

Chronic conditions can make new situations very uncomfortable.  If you are restricted with what you eat, you are waiting for someone to invite you to a restaurant you can't eat at or make you a meal that contains foods that can give you a flare.  If you are restricted with what activities you can do, you are waiting for someone to ask you to play tennis or go for a run.  If traveling aggravates it, you are waiting for a family member to question why you don't come to visit them more.  And then you have to explain why.  Why can't you have that big slice of pepperoni pizza.  Why can't you do the glow run?  Why can't you go on a weekend road trip with some girlfriends to a destination that is only 6 hours away?

Your condition drains you.  You are tired all of the time.  Some days it is an effort even for you to get out of bed or eat breakfast.  And explaining this to someone else is really hard.  You don't want to be the Debbie Downer who complains all of the time.  You really don't want every one to know about your bladder, your intestines, your ovaries, your back, your body, and you know that most people don't want to know about all of that either.  However, it is the only way to explain what is wrong with you so people understand and won't judge you, which you are constantly worried about.

Why don't you try this?  They say.  If you can't do this why are you doing that?  They ask.  Some make suggestions because they love you and really care about what happens to you.  Some are actually really knowledgeable and you are flattered that they would even think of you outside of the time you are together.  But let's face it, some are just rude and mean and they don't care about you and your health.  They only care about how your condition affects them.
Much Cuter Than a Hippo
When you meet someone new your disease is the proverbial hippo in the room.  I say hippo and not elephant because elephants are cute.  They are strong and be honest, who doesn't love Dumbo?  Hippos, on the other hand, are not cute.  They are enormous and the are pretty creepy and just plain ugly.  And that is what chronic medical conditions are.  (And could you imagine having to carry a hippo around all day?  No wonder we are in so much pain!)  You can see the hippo and you wonder how long it is going to be before you have to mention the hippo to the other person.  You get anxious and your stomach begins to get butterflies.  You don't know what response you are going to get.  And then it happens.  You have to bite the bullet.  Sometimes the other person can see and acknowledge the hippo.  Sometimes they continue telling you their story about how annoying their new neighbors are.  (For those people you really wish they could see the hippo and that it might sit on them)  Sometimes they tell you one time they had a canker sore in their mouth for a really long time and it hurt really bad.   Sometimes they listen and tell you how sorry they are for you.  They give you a hug and sincerely tell you if you ever need anything to let them know.  (Which almost makes you cry.)  Sometimes they really do have a chronic medical condition and you know at that moment you will be friends for life.  You are relieved that you don't have to go through this alone.

These invisible conditions are also hard on your family too.  You hate that you are restricted from doing certain things with your child.  You wish that you didn't have to sleep all of the time.  You wish that you had more energy to make your house look more like something out of Better Homes and Gardens than Hoarders.  If you are lucky, you will have a supportive family that caters to your condition and in spite of it, treats you like royalty.  Not everyone is this lucky.  There are so many people with chronic conditions who are hurt the most by those they are closest to.  Their spouse, best friend, or child is tired of being around someone who is sick on the time.  What they do not realize is that the one who has the condition is so tired of it too.

But the hippo remains.

So you have a choice.  You can let the hippo define your life for you.  Or you can redefine the hippo.  Perhaps the hippo can't run, but it can swim.  Perhaps the hippo is hideous, but maybe you could put a tutu on it and take pictures in random places to create awareness.  Perhaps carrying around a hippo all day makes your arms hurt, but you can network and find a support group or start a support group.  Perhaps the hippo can help you be an encouragement to other people who also have to carry around hippos all day too.  If there is anything you know, it is that it is not easy to carry a hippo.

And perhaps to those of you who don't have a hippo, you can help someone who does.  Grab a hippo arm or leg or head and just walk beside them.  (I wouldn't advise walking behind the hippo.  Things could get really messy)  Most hippo carriers would be more than happy to let you take over for awhile, even if they aren't forthcoming about it.  

Here's my question.  What are you going to do with your hippo?  What are you going to do with your friend's hippo?
I'm Just Glad I Don't Have to Carry Around One of These Guys


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