Modern western society is heavily influenced by Christian biblical ideas, which in turn came from the ancient superstitions of the culture in which the bible arose. One of these is the notion that illness is the result of some kind of sin. Essentially, this says that we are sick because we are bad people who do bad things. Even though few people nowadays are callous enough to acknowledge this idea explicitly, it still forms part of the thinking that underpins western society. Old superstitions can take a long time to really dispel.
In biblical times, people who were ill were considered “unclean”, and ostracised from other members of society. Evidently people had worked out that some conditions were contagious even long before any infectious agents were discovered. Stigmatising and segregating the ill helped contain the spread of disease. Nowadays we have a better idea of what illnesses are contagious and what the underlying causes are, but nevertheless the stigma remains. So it’s easy to end up feeling ashamed of being ill.
Western society values people who are strong, independent, healthy, and productive. Chronic Fatigue makes me feel weak, I become dependent on other people, sick all the time, and I’m no longer capable of achieving what I would like to because I don’t have the energy. I worry that other people will think I’m simply lazy, or depressed; and the mental illnesses that often accompany Chronic Fatigue like anxiety and depression have their own set of stigma attached despite being astonishingly widespread.
I have been involved in personal development for many years, since long before I became ill. While many people in the personal development area can be wonderfully supportive, I have also found others who were quite intolerant when it came to chronic illness. On one level, books like Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life are excellent and offer hope that we can and will get better; but on another, the same ideas can be shame-inducing if you happen to be trying hard to heal yourself but getting nowhere. I have been told that I would wake up cured tomorrow if I simply believed that it was possible, and been berated by people who couldn’t handle the idea that I could be sick through no fault of my own. They assumed that there must be some secondary gain behind my being ill, some subconscious process I wasn’t aware of, or some lesson to be learned that I still hadn’t got. All these things can be true to some degree, but they can also be used by careless people who just end up rubbing salt into our wounds. Some treatment programmes are even based on the idea that we’re not actually ill, but it’s just something that we create in our minds.
I resisted joining any kind of Chronic Fatigue support group for a long time. After all, who wants to hang out with sick people? I wanted to be out doing all the fun stuff I used to enjoy with my regular friends. However, I found that joining a support group lessened my sense of shame about being ill. Here were people who understood what I was going through. I didn’t need to justify how I felt or why I didn’t have the energy to do everything I wanted to do. They understood without judging, because they’d been through it, and were still going through it themselves.
I also found it very helpful talking to people who had suffered from Chronic Fatigue in the past. Not only did they understand what I was going through, but they also offered me hope that recovery was possible and that there is going to be life on the other side.