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Living with chronic illness

By Yvonne Hignell, Care & Support Services Director

Living with chronic illness wasn’t something that I had planned nor, obviously, something I wanted.  But it’s the life I have so I’ve got two choices: make the best of it and keep going or stop. I don’t want to stop, even if some days I feel as though to keep going is an uphill battle I can’t win. What’s amazing to me is that I do keep going, winning a fight with my body and mind each and every day. 

In July 2015, I was diagnosed with three autoimmune conditions (Sjogrens, Fibromyalgia and Raynards) and each of them has its own unique characteristics and complications. The world of autoimmune conditions wasn’t one I knew well so I embarked on a research project; taking in information about the groups of symptoms which now had names. I was trying to make sense of it all and understand what my body could and couldn’t do.  

A chronic illness stays with you for life. So, in truth, I have no choice but to get to know these invaders in my body.  I need to understand why I feel pain for no apparent reason. I need to know why some days I feel as if every single inch of my body is on fire and, on other days, I feel completely and utterly fine.

On the outside, I look like any other slightly tired, bedraggled 30 (something) wife, mother and working woman. And that’s the thing with chronic illness: unless you tell people, they would probably never know. There’s no plaster cast or visible sign to show that something inside you is broken or hurting.  It’s very hard to explain to people what these conditions are, what they mean and how they affect you, because every single day is different. 

I decided to start talking about it, perhaps because it would help me to make sense of it.  Or perhaps because, after spending the last 20 years working with people facing all sorts of challenges, I know there isn’t a neon sign above their heads saying there’s something wrong and they need help. 

The greatest barrier to people getting the help they need is fear. Fear of what will happen if they show weakness, if they ask for help and it’s not there or, worse, if they are discriminated against or judged for something that’s out of their control. 

We are only human. Each of us will experience something that is out of our control at some point in our lives and which makes us feel afraid and lost.  When that happens we need people to turn to, people who will help and who won’t judge us. Ben is there for everyone connected to the automotive industry, for life. My personal experience tells me that just talking to someone who cares can mean the difference between an awful day and a day that you can win. We might not be able to fix everything that’s broken, but we may be able to make the journey a little less painful. 

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