I feel like I frequently am.
Whether it’s at healthcare events, support groups or consultant waiting rooms. I’m usually the odd one out, the person who is “too young to be sick”.
Of course young people get sick
I never really felt this was an issue until other people mentioned it. A nurse remarking as a lay waiting on an operating table that I was younger than most people the hospital saw. Older people at my support groups tutting and sighing about how it’s so tragic that I am there.
This is another chronic illness myth that I have to dismiss, the old and young alike get sick. And with growing populations that live longer, and with a greater quality of life and our increasingly stressed lifestyles, more and more people under 30 with a long-term illness is going to become the reality.
I personally see it a a positive rather than a negative. Younger faces with illness mean more chronic illness is being diagnosed earlier and with greater accuracy than before. I am seeing younger people diagnosed with endometriosis with mixed feelings of sadness and relief. I am relieved that fewer young people have to go through the quiet stigma and suffering that I had to for almost a decade, that they can benefit from increased awareness of the disease earlier, and get the treatment and support they deserve with more expertise than I ever did. There’s always room for improvement, but it’s a start right?
Let’s not forget that the average amount of time that someone has to live unknowingly with a terrifying chronic pain or symptom has been much longer in the past. It takes an average of eight to 10 years for endometriosis for example. So with that in mind, isn’t it better than more young people are getting pushed to the foreground when it comes to illness?
Being young and ill can be extremely isolating
Illness is a burden on all age groups, but it feels particularly cruel as a young person. Some people are still developing who they are, while trying to grapple with ill health. Others are trying to manage with studying and education.
I’m approaching my thirties now, but one of the hardest things for me remains not being able to meet the expectations of my peers. To not have the same amount of energy, to not be able to do the same activities or events. To have to turn down invitations perpetually (and occasionally be accused of not “being a team player” as a result of it). All of this negativity when I am trying my best still hurts me to this day. It’s still upsetting to not be able to fully enjoy what is meant to be the prime of my life, but I remain positive and optimistic about what I still have, and what I can still accomplish.
You feel very out of place then, when you turn to someone for help, or go to a support group, or a meeting, or a hospital and someone points out that you’re too young to be there – it’s meant in a supportive way, but it can be dashed with a hint of prejudice.
I see tons of help in my area for the over 65s, and I see a multitude of help for children, but there’s very little support for people of working age (who can’t get to the multitude of weekday meetings for people who are chronically ill), and even less for 20 or 30 somethings. And I don’t mean financial support. Nine times out of 10, I just want someone to speak to, someone who is on the same wavelength as me and faces a lot of the same pressures.