7 Things TV and Movies Get Wrong About Chronic Illness

Chronic illness is not regularly represented in movies and TV shows. Only recently have movies and TV shows about chronic illness been made popular. For example, The Fault in Our Stars, a love story about two teenagers with cancer was wildly popular with nearly $125,000 in box office revenue. Any representation of chronic illness is a step in the right direction, as an estimated half of all people have a chronic illness. The current representation of chronic illness often perpetuates common misconceptions about dealing with chronic illness.

Seven Things the Movies Get Wrong About Chronic Illness
Hard Work Can Cure Everything
We often see people who are paralyzed and injured struggling at physical therapy appointments. These struggles are intense and common in chronic illness, but one aspect commonly depicted of this struggle is not. Many of the chronically ill characters are cured simply by this hard work. There are a few scenes of them struggling and suddenly are cured of all symptoms. Many illnesses, like Type I Diabetes, won’t be cured with hard work. Symptoms may be kept at bay through activity, but rarely are their illnesses entirely cured.

Diagnosis is Fast
In movies or TV shows, we often see someone get obviously and visibly ill. The character suddenly faints or has a seizure then in the very next scene their illness is explained. In House, MD the most complicated cases the writers can think up are often solved within the time of a week on the show. In the real world, a lot of people do not immediately receive a diagnosis, especially those with rare or newly recognized illnesses. In rare illnesses, it may take decades to be correctly diagnosed. The process is exhausting and representing this problem in diagnosis is crucial to the understanding of what the chronically ill go through.

All Illness is Visible
The chronically ill protagonist is always obviously sick. They are in a wheelchair, on oxygen, or have lost all their hair from chemotherapy. Outside the movies, not everyone who looks healthy is actually healthy. This assumption is problematic to those of us with chronic illness. People assume you aren’t actually sick because every representation of chronic illness they have seen has been obvious and visible. In many illnesses, such as Fibromyalgia and Dysautonomia, patients may look healthy to outsiders.

Chronic Illness is Temporary
Occasionally movies and TV shows claim a character has a chronic illness, but the illness is not actually depicted as chronic. Characters are all either cured or die. The doctors, tests, pain, and medication is all shown as temporary. Audiences don’t see the daily permanent struggle that is faced by sufferers of chronic illness.

It Is All Cancer and Injury
There are so many chronic illnesses that people deal with, but usually only cancer and illness caused by injury are represented. Cancer and injury are easy fall-backs because they are easily understood, but there is no excuse for this lack of creativity and underrepresentation. There are plenty of chronic illnesses that make for compelling characters and stories.

Skip the Coping
Coping with a chronic illness is a huge struggle. Many patients grieve for their old lives and have to learn how to enjoy life in new ways. Coming to terms and learning to be happy with an illness is a rough and inspiring battle. By skipping this struggle and only showing illness as temporary, producers miss an opportunity to share these inspirational stories.

How Do We Fix This?
The more that chronically ill people share their experiences, the better the representation in the media will be. People have trouble understanding the issues chronically ill face and representation of chronic illness in the media is a step in the right direction. An accurate representation of this struggle in the media, TV shows, and movies would do wonders for awareness and understanding.

The Privilege of Independence

When my parents dropped me off for my first day of camp when I was five they expected it to be tough. It was tough, but just for them. I was ready to leave and meet new people and to be on my own. When my dad came to visit me at lunch I even gave him the cold shoulder; I was busy with my new friends! I have always been extremely independent even that young. I do not like having to rely on others and prefer to trust myself to take care of me.

We expect to need others to rely on both early and late in life. Children are unable to care for themselves and the elderly often experience the same fate. In our society this dependence is both accepted and expected. However, as adults, young and old, often we are expected to take care of ourselves and maintain 100% independence. This is not always the case. What happens when we get cannot rely on ourselves alone?

Independence and being able to rely on ourselves alone is a privilege. It isn’t one you would know you have unless you have lost it. For those of us with severe physical or mental illness we no longer have that privilege. If we do not rely on others (or are not lucky enough to have these people in our lives) we end up homeless, dead, or injured.

A few years ago I experienced 3-4 blood clots that sent my health into a downward spiral. I went from a fiercely independent high-achieving pre-med student, an avid volunteer, a distance runner, and a dancer to becoming bed-ridden. I also have Dysautonomia; in my case means that I faint anywhere from once a week to once every 15 minutes. I also discovered I have Ehler’s Danlos, leading my joints to dislocate or pop out of place and cause frequent excruciating pain. Occasionally, I can live normally and near independently, but often I have to rely on others. Sometimes I cannot get food myself, make enough money for rent, or even walk to the bathroom without a shoulder to lean on.

It has been an incredibly difficult journey, and I have had to learn to rely on other people and let go of independence. I loathe it; I abhor having to depend on others. I really do. Learning to rely on others without feeling like a burden has been one of the hardest thing I have had to face and likely will continue to face for the rest of my life. Because it is so difficult, I absolutely hate when people who are judgemental about my “lack of” independence.

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Friends, family, and infuriating strangers frequently make comments about how important maintaining independence is. They are often incredibly judgemental in doing so, and they are not entirely wrong. Many forms of independence are important and healthy. For example, I am all for healthy attachment in relationships. Individuals should stay an “I” instead of morphing into a “we” without lives of their own when they enter relationships, friendship or others. However, asking for help from your loved ones when you need it can be absolutely healthy and necessary. That is not an unhealthy loss of independence and should not be treated as such. Independence should be valued, but independence does not mean doing everything on your own. You can retain a healthy independence and depend on the help of others.

It has taken me some time to realize that asking for help when you need is not admitting weakness, but I have become a better person and have a better life as a result. I can’t live alone, but have learned to better appreciate my wonderful roommates. Learning to get help from others has helped me be a better friend too. Learning how to ask what you need from people helps them better ask you when they are in a tough spot. Realizing the strength it can take to ask for help makes it easier to help loved ones with that in mind. Additionally, I know the people who surround me are real friends and that we can lean on each other when we need to.  

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I have my own hobbies, friends, and job. I am independent in all the healthy ways that matter. However, I do have to rely on others and let go of independence because of my illness and that really is okay. Independence is absolutely important, but people need to stop equating needing the help of others with an unhealthy dependence on others. If you are healthy and have the privilege of not having to depend on anyone else- good for you. You also need to realize that is not the case for all of us. Many of us have to rely on others to survive and that does not make us any lesser than those who do not.

PillPack Review

Within the past couple months, my Facebook advertisements have been all about Pillpack. I decided to try PillPack out and share my experience. In theory, Pillpack is revolutionary. Pillpack acts as a pharmacy, pre-wrapping each dose of your medicine based on the time of day and sends you all your meds by mail. PillPack is supposed to even work with your pharmacy so you don’t have to play the middle man. It sounds great- no more forgetting if I already took a dose, no more wrestling with pharmacists and insurance companies, no more unorganised pill bottles, and no more standing in long pharmacy lines!

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Unfortunately, all I found was in Pillpack was disappointment. I signed up and put all my medicines in, and then waited for PillPack to transfer the prescriptions over. PillPack got one medicine. One medicine doesn’t even begin to cover what I have been prescribed. PillPack filled just one prescription, propranolol- the one that is most important for me to take. PillPack shipped me the propranolol. In the box were 120 small packets each with one single tiny blue pill in them. Suddenly the little packs didn’t seem handy; instead they were a pain to open and not exactly environmentally friendly. Maybe with all my medicines it would be worth it, but with one? Wasteful.

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One of the primary reasons I tried PillPac was because I was so sick of pharmacies. Having to deal with both PillPack and a pharmacy was actually making things more difficult for me so I emailed and cancelled PillPack. I received an email acknowledging my cancellation.However, PillPack ignored my cancellation. Instead, they shipped out my Propranolol to the wrong address. I didn’t bother changing my address after I moved with PillPack because I cancelled their services- why would I?

I went without propranolol for a good part of the weekend. Now that I tracked down where my package went, I have to drive across town to hopefully get my medicine. There is a good possibility that they have returned the package since I don’t live there. Worst of all, my regular pharmacy cannot fill my prescription (or my insurance won’t cover it) because PillPack sent out this order without my approval. PillPack did not succeed in simplifying my health care- it complicated it.

I do not recommend using PillPack. I can see how the PillPack system may work in others. Some people may have more success, such as those without a pain doctor or those whose medicine and dosage is constant. Pain doctors write new scripts when you come into the office each month. Some pain specialists do this for even non-narcotic medicines. PillPack isn’t well equipped for the kind of care that changed each month. PillPack is most helpful in people with a few medications that are not being changed, experimented with, or adjusted. If you are, like me, still trying to figure out what medicines and doses work the best- avoid PillPack.