July 10th is National Chronic Disease Awareness Day. This day strives to give a voice to those who live with Chronic Illnesses, but the scope isn’t limited to just those immediately affected. Awareness is for everyone and it enriches and benefits everyone in a community in many ways.
The most obvious way is education. Things like diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure tend to run in families, but can also be managed or avoided entirely with early intervention and lifestyle modifications. Things like lupus or cancer, if caught early, have a much better chance of being controlled and give the individual a better quality of life. Awareness prompts these discussions and self inventories. It also highlights the symptoms of certain conditions. Only a healthcare professional can diagnose a chronic illness, however, if something sounds familiar or you think you might be at risk for a chronic illness contact your doctor about testing options. Some symptoms are the first sign something is wrong. If left untreated they and the condition could become worse and lead to more complications. It isn’t always pleasant to think about, but when you give yourself the best possible chance of being healthy it can only help.
While some chronic conditions are inherited, like Lyme Disease, some are not. Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to humans by certain types of ticks. Those who are bitten develop symptoms which may include fever, rashes, and difficulty concentrating which is sometimes called, “brain fog.” Even after treatment some of these symptoms will continue to pop up and affect the person’s everyday life. In bringing awareness to diseases like this you can learn how best to avoid situations or practices that could lead to infection. (using insect repellant, checking yourself or pets for ticks after you’ve been outside, etc.)
One of the most powerful results of raising awareness is fostering empathy and compassion. Six out of ten people in the United States suffer from a chronic illness, the chances are very high that you know someone with one. Most likely several someones. Not all of them are open about it and not all of them are clearly recognizable. “Invisible illnesses” are some of the hardest to live with because to the outside world the individual does not appear ill, but the stigma of illness might make them wary to disclose it to just everyone. Sometimes, due to their symptoms they can be tardy, they may have to cancel suddenly, or they may not be able to eat at every restaurant. Awareness strives to gently remind each of us that not everyone is the same and the needs of others battling illnesses don’t always line up with someone who isn’t ill. In knowing how many individuals suffer from a chronic illness it might lead someone to empathize in those situations instead of immediately jumping to a conclusion about a person being “lazy” or “too picky”. They might try to find out why in a compassionate manner and work towards a solution. This then might make the person with the illness feel valued and supported and perhaps more likely to open up about their condition. Communication is critical in forming healthy relationships of all kinds, and it all starts with empathy and compassion.
It’s impossible for any one person to know everything about every condition, but that is why days like this exist. It isn’t about one person, it’s about all people. Awareness is for everyone to take part and be a part of the team!