Minimizing Illnesses

Yesterday, I filled half of my prescription for Adderall (thanks in great part to some awesome people who donated). Today when I woke up is the first time I’ve taken it and it seems to be pretty awesome thus far. I’m not entirely sure if amphetamines just do things immediately or if I’m experiencing a placebo effect, but either way it’s great. Since I’m dealing with sickness and expensive medical care, I thought I’d share some thoughts on the subject.


Invisible illnesses like depression and Crohn’s are often and easily dismissed by people who don’t understand them. There’s often a “buck up” attitude that doesn’t seem to crop up as much with other, more physical or obvious ailments. Mental illness, being the thing that I deal with, seems like an incredibly meaningless medical problem compared to cancer or cardiovascular disease.

Seriously, I have a hard time forcing myself not to contrast my illness against physical ailments like strep throat, for example. It’s hard to feel like my depression is a serious thing compared to a bacterial infection.

Then I’m reading some blog and someone points out that depression is a potentially fatal illness. Which is pretty hard to swallow and deal with, even though I have suicidal thoughts fairly often. It doesn’t mesh well in my head. Point being, it’s a serious problem that I tend to try not to make a big deal out of, even while realizing that it’s a big deal. (Am I making any sense?)

Anyway, I’ve noticed that people sometimes do this minimizing with physical illnesses, too, though. If someone has a cough, someone else may suggest that the person with the cough just needs to drink more water. Rather than suggesting that the person might be sick if they’ve had a cough all day, we tend to assume by default that nothing is wrong, or that the problem is minor. 

This doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens often enough to mention.

So I was wondering why we do this. Not only with invisible illnesses, but visible ones as well. 

Being that I’m currently having a hard time affording the meds I’ve been prescribed for an illness I have a hard time justifying getting meds for, and that I can’t get other medical things I need, I’ve concluded that at least part of the reason we minimize illness is to avoid the exorbitant medical costs. (This is mainly an issue in the US and not a ton of other industrialized countries.)

Basically, if your insurance doesn’t cover much and you already don’t have a ton of disposable income, going to the doctor is a luxury. Or it’s something that you decide you have to do and maybe go into debt doing it. I’m trying to avoid getting into debt at this point in my life. And unfortunately, it’s coming at the cost of not being on birth control, not being able to go to therapy, not knowing if I can switch doctors, and my husband not being on meds for ADHD or having contacts or even dreaming of getting corrective eye surgery. Note that another huge factor in not getting these things is simply not knowing how much most of those things would cost.

I’m sure lots of people deal with these same problems. And I think it’s contributing to a culture in which we try to ignore it when we get sick, or we feel ashamed for needing medicine that we think we shouldn’t need.

Another interesting aspect of this is that while reading about depression, the authors of those blogs often urge their readers to seek medical assistance if they think they have depression, at least to get a medical opinion. On the one hand, I want to encourage my viewers to get help if they need it, but it’s also fairly likely that they can’t afford it. It takes a lot of courage to go the first time, and if you have financial instability it can make it even harder to go over that hurdle and to take that step toward recovery.

We shouldn’t be having to choose between getting the oil changed in our cars or getting pills this month. We shouldn’t have to avoid going to the doctor for fear of going into debt. I’m not sure if my current insurance is going to improve in 2014, but I’m hoping it does, and that lots of other people get more affordable options for medical care. It’s one more step toward being able to treat our ailments seriously, even if they’re invisible.


3 thoughts on “Minimizing Illnesses

  1. “So I was wondering why we do this. Not only with invisible illnesses, but visible ones as well.”

    I think another reason people tend to gloss over small potential signs is because we all prefer to stay in the uninterrupted, happier life. On the good side, maybe they just aren’t trying to cause alarm. Maybe they think they’re being nice.

    But at a certain point, ignoring a serious cough becomes denial. And that’s when minimizing the seriousness of a symptom becomes something of an irresponsible defensive mechanism, in my mind.


    1. Yeah, I’m sure that it’s reflexively a desire to treat everything like it’s okay. Once you acknowledge that there’s a problem, people get uncomfortable. Many of them would rather pretend everything’s fine than acknowledge if they have a serious illness, or even if someone else has a serious illness. (I can’t tell you how many times someone else has gotten awkward when I tell them about my depression.)


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