Monday, September 19, 2011

Schooling And Being Schooled By Chronic Illness: The Sometimes Glamorous Art Of Disclosing

In the same day, two seemly unrelated events occurred. 

The first was a student disclosing to me that they had been dealing with a serious illness.  I immediately felt for and empathized with this student.  I wanted to reach out and give the student a hug.  But I didn’t.  I listened.  And I did something that maybe I shouldn’t have done. 

I disclosed my illnesses.  I tend to do this when students disclose illness to me, because I want them to know that they are not alone, and that others have been successful despite seemingly great odds.  I don’t do it to steal their thunder, saying “Hey, I’m sick, too!”  I do it so they know that I really understand.

I really connect with these students.  This is confirmed for me every semester I teach, and makes me realize that wanting to work in higher education, specifically with chronically ill students is my calling.  It’s what I was meant to do.  

I’ve encountered very few people who have made my life easier, as far as being a graduate student with chronic illness is concerned.  But rather than be one of those people who is bitter and decides to make others’ lives miserable because theirs was made to be, I just don’t have that in me.  I’m not that kind of person. 

So I connect with the student on a personal level.  Because I understand them in ways that others just aren’t capable of because they haven’t experienced it themselves.

On top of that, I broke another rule.  Maybe a more important one this time.

I went on a first date and I disclosed my illnesses.  Maybe I was feeling ballsy because I had “outted” myself to the student a few hours earlier.  But it didn’t feel that way.  It felt like it was something I needed to do, so we could either get past it and move on, or stop right then and there. 

Because the reality is that chronic illness has impacted all facets of my life.  It’s the first thing that enters into the equation.  It has to. 

So maybe I made a mistake.  But my gut and my heart tell me that I didn’t.  They suggest to me that I did the right thing, in the right place, at the right time.  

This just proves to me that there is no book on disclosure.  Who you disclose to and when is ultimately your choice.  I have prided myself in the past about the “third date rule” on several occasions.  But now I’m not so sure.  If it makes sense to disclose, disclose. 

Maybe people have other views on this and think that I’m crazy for disclosing on a first date.  But honestly, what a relief it was.  We made it over that hump.  Doesn’t mean that it won’t come back to bite me in the ass, but right now things are holding steady. 

So, disclosure is a complicated animal.  I think we’ve all discovered that pretty early on in the chronic illness experience.  In some ways, disclosing forces us to live our everyday lives in full relief.  Every time that we admit to others that illness is happening to us, we have to live all that, that means for our lives; which I think we sometimes forget in the daily slogging along. 

Maybe it was easier for me to disclose in this situation because at the moment, I truly don’t look sick.  In some ways, that’s kind of tease because it puts people at ease.  But for me it has always been more about the “what if” th


  1. Hi Lesley, I think that it's great that you told the guy about your illness on the first date. You must have felt comfortable with him, & that it was the right thing to do at the time. We make rules for ourselves with our illness, probably because we need to feel safe & have some structure to work around in day to day life. But didn't some-one once say that rules are there to be broken? I think you did the right thing because now you both know where you stand. GOOD LUCK! X

  2. Sorry Leslie, I just realised I spelt you name wrong. How rude of me! I will correct it if I can from here.

  3. Good for you! Sharing your illness is never easy but I bet you made a big impact on your student and he/she feels much better. As for dating-- that's always tough but I figure I might as well "get it over with" and then move on to getting to know the other person better.
    Feel good!

  4. I also think it's good to share your illness up front. I can understand both sides, but on an emotional level, sometimes by the third date, it may become even more difficult to do so best to do it before you invest any strong feelings into a person. I think it's fair for both parties in that sense. Wishing you well!