Chronic does not mean predictable. Chronic does not mean temporary. It also doesn’t mean consistent, monotonous, predictably repetitive, or habitual. It’s not banal or soporific. Except that it is.
It can be seen, yet it is invisible. It’s tedious, at the same time that it’s not. It’s not a routine, at the same time that it is. Everything changes, at the same time that nothing really changes.
Which is why we have such trouble understanding it.
Like the Greek word agápe, with no direct English translation, chronic disease – chronos – does not translate into something we can make sense of at first either. The idea that anything will last until we die is far-fetched (except for happy marriages and twinkies).
‘Chronic’ doesn’t fit our understanding of how health and sickness works. We’ve been conditioned to believe that our illnesses are curable; if we just try enough treatments we’ll get better. Injectables, swallowables, stitchables, chemicals, radiation(ables) can fix anything.
Except that they can’t.
Chronic disease is like a parasite; surviving off its host, always adapting to resist being eradicated. The intense throbbing of an anxious and overburdened body is an unwelcome, yet familiar, intrusion with the dawning of each new day.
Chronic disease is unpredictable and that unpredictability makes it nearly impossible to control. The drugs may not be permanent but some side effects are, and the progressive nature of the disease introduces new symptoms when least expected – symptoms that will be forever crashing workdays, nap times, parties, and vacations.
Imagine every injury or mystery pain is there to stay. No longer are muscle strains and sprains healed with heat/ice and stretching; the pain never goes away. No longer are a stuffy nose and sore throat symptoms of a common cold; they are now permanent. No longer is an all-over, throbbing ache a warning sign of the flu; it is reality 24/7/365.
We who have these forever conditions don’t get used to them. There is a degree of accepting them, and though we adapt to these changes in our bodies with no other choice, we still remember what we used to be capable of. Even if we’d prefer not think about our losses, our medical charts track them for us. We can hope for remission, but anyone who knows anything about cancer understands that remission is a sleeping dragon.
Chronic is the wicked word, not disease. Because chronic is the reason our diseases stay.
Chronic doesn’t go away.