I was once out for a drink with someone who also has Transverse Myelitis (TM) and the bartender asked her why she was using a stick. My friend briefly explained TM and the bar girl responded, ‘Oh, but you have recovered.’
My friend hesitated then replied, ‘Yes.’ In addition to being surprised and wondering how my friend would respond, I was conscious of standing next to her without a stick and having walked into the bar normally, but with the constant buzzy feeling in my hands.
So here we were, two people who had TM, but the impact of the condition and recovery were very different. The impact on my friend was visible, on me, not visible.
The bartender’s response got me thinking about the notion of recovery and what as a society we mean by it. I realised the assumptions tied into it and how they can hinder the recovery process. This learning has helped me and my clients find new and different ways of explaining to people the nature of our recovery in relation to a condition, illness or injury and how not to let it hinder our recovery process. So read on to learn more.
So what do we mean by recovery?
As a society, the definition of recovery in the context of health and illness (Free Dictionary, 2016) presupposes you go back to the way you were before the onset of the condition, illness or injury.
a) To have (the use, possession, or control of something) restored
b) To regain the use of (a faculty) or be restored to (a normal or usual condition)
c) To regain one’s health, strength, composure, balance, etc., after illness, trouble, disturbance, or the like
d) If you recover, you become well again after an illness or injury.
It is no wonder people say the things they do when it comes to recovery from a condition, illness or injury!
Oh, but you recovered.
My, you look well today. Your recovery is good!
Why aren’t you recovering? Maybe you need to do XYZ, do more of ABC, stop doing DEF.
If you were more positive, you would recover.
The nature of common illnesses and injuries – a broken bone, a cold, flu, infection – is that many times we recover from it. So of course the notion of ‘getting better’, of ‘going back to the way we were’, is often our first thought when we think of recovery in this context. That is understandable. But it has become an assumption that this will happen. And that assumption is based on another assumption.
The experience of illness is temporary
But some illnesses don’t end. They can be chronic. Others are progressive and can end in death. And in these cases, there can be more assumptions tied into the concept of recovery.
Sometimes the impact of a condition/illness can be invisible. You look fine to the outside world, but on the inside you don’t feel well at all. In this case, the assumption can be:
You look well so you must have recovered or be recovering.
On the days you are not feeling well, there may be a range of unpleasant responses from people you know and don’t know. They may think you are lying. They may appear fed up and tell you, ‘We all feel bad at times. You just have to get on with it.’ They may get upset when you have to change your plans with them yet again.
These responses point to the stigma of:
For an illness to be valid, it has to be visible.
Yet your experience of the condition/illness is valid, the condition/illness is real. I think one reason for the unpleasant responses lies in the visibility aspect. When people can see something, this can give them some guidance on how to act, which gives certainty and reassurance. For example, you see someone with a broken leg on crutches. You hold the door open for them, you ask them if you can get them a cup of tea. You know what to do and how to help.
But when you cannot see something, you can feel less clear on what is actually happening and what you can do.
Many people generally like to know, to feel certain because it gives them a sense of control. In the case of health and illness, I like to think this is because they want to help in some way. But sometimes their beliefs around health and illness coupled with any anxiety around not knowing and society’s diktats on recovery can get in the way.
There can be another stigma.
But you look well. You must not be working hard enough at your recovery if you aren’t better yet.
Ach, this one can hurt when you know you are doing what you can and researching what else you can do.
So what can you do?
For a start, you can use the above to explain to people the notion of recovery in the context of your experience with a condition, serious illness or injury.
Secondly, people’s responses highlight the assumptions underpinning them and that person’s attitudes towards health and illness. Those assumptions are theirs, not yours. You can choose to hold different assumptions, beliefs and definitions regarding your condition/illness/injury, recovery and health.
Regarding those people who play an important role in your life but may be responding with doubt regarding your recovery process, yes, it can be tough when they appear not to believe what you tell them. What can help is giving them information about your condition and the recovery process from an expert source like the NHS or a charity. This gives them additional reassurance about what you are saying, it helps them to adjust their expectations of you and what you can do, and it helps to break down incorrect assumptions. All of that can help you get what you may be needing – understanding, support, something else.
Lastly, come back in two weeks when I will expand on the notion of recovery and two weeks after that when I will focus on actually responding to people.
What’s it like for you?
In relation to your own or a loved one’s experience with illness, what has your experience with recovery been like? What kind of responses have you had from others? And what assumptions have you heard in their responses? I’d love to hear your thoughts so share below by leaving a comment.
If this blog has sparked something inside you and you would like to explore how you can make changes in your recovery process, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.
Pass it forward
Although these blogs are written in the context of living with serious illness/injury or a chronic condition, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. So if you think a friend or family member would benefit from reading it, or you just want to share it with the world, share this post using the icons below.
I have started to research the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of long-term conditions and serious illness/injury. If you or a loved one experienced the onset of a long-term condition or serious illness/injury in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering with what acceptance means for you, I would love to speak with you. Click here to find out more.
© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2016
- a) and b) recover. (n.d.)American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2011). Retrieved 14 June 2016 fromÂ http://www.thefreedictionary.com/recover
- c) (n.d.)Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary. (2010). Retrieved 14 June 2016 fromÂ http://www.thefreedictionary.com/recover
- d) (n.d.)Collins COBUILD English Usage. (1992, 2004, 2011, 2012). Retrieved 14 June 2016 fromÂ http://www.thefreedictionary.com/recover