inVentiv Influencers: Article By Abigail Perrault; Copywriter - GSW NYC
NY, New York – When it comes to talking about illness, we can fall into the trap of telling the same linear recovery story. It usually goes something like this: we get sick, we see our doctors, we take the appropriate steps to get healthy, and eventually we become well enough to get back to our busy lives. When it comes to covering stories of illness in the media, there’s a bit of an obsession with the miraculous recovery narrative, where despite a bleak diagnosis the patient almost impossibly defeats a once-debilitating affliction.
But for the millions of Americans living with a chronic illness, the experience of being sick doesn’t always fit neatly into these societally valued stories of recovery. Individuals affected by chronic illness experience symptoms that persist overtime, and symptom severity can fluctuate from day to day. For some, complete recovery isn’t an option at all. Battling an illness might not necessarily mean working towards defeating a disease, but rather learning to live with it.
With chronic disease, there can be good days and bad days alike, and it’s important to keep in mind that the good days don’t invalidate any of the pain or suffering that the affected individual may experience. In her recent article in “I Won’t Apologize for Having Fun While Chronically Ill,” Rocky Mountain spotted fever survivor Denise Reich describes the skepticism she frequently faces from strangers and friends alike when she does something a “sick” person shouldn’t do, like run an errand or participate in a social event. In response to the doubt raised by a skeptical friend regarding the severity of her disease (because she had posted a picture to social media taken at a theme park and, well, sick people can’t have fun!), Denise writes: “whenever ill people do—well, anything—it’s taken as “proof” that we’re bluffing about our condition. “
To offer support for those living with a chronic condition, it’s important to keep in mind that there’s more to the story than the dichotomy of sickness and recovery that so often dominates public conversation about illness and disability. For those of us representing the experience of the chronically ill in medical communications, it’s critical that we understand the complex nature and non-linear progression that can characterize chronic disease and disability.
WHY IT MATTERS:
Managing chronic illness is a top priority in healthcare. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 50% of American adults are affected by or have lived with a chronic disease. Treating chronic illness accounts for approximately 76% of our aggregate healthcare spending in the U.S.
People dealing with chronic illness don’t want to be defined by their disease. These are, after all, people, so they deserve to have their experiences validated and their humanity acknowledged. As medical storytellers, we have to remember that there isn’t just one narrative of being ill.
Abbey Perreault is a copywriter at GSW, interested in women's health, neuroscience, and the history of scientific storytelling. When she's not writing, she can be found running, making music, or thinking of ways to make tasteful puns.