When we find ourselves in conversations about minor illnesses, even a cold, there is a tendency for people to use the language of war, such as fighting or battling.

People with medical conditions are often called “warriors” and under this description are encouraged to battle their illness and push themselves.

Using the term warrior can be helpful for some people as a means of describing the challenges of being sick to others who are not living with an illness. But for others, the narrative can make them uncomfortable.

This isn’t to say that it’s not a struggle for them, but people with chronic illness are who they are first and foremost, and not a warrior.

Let’s look into why the warrior narrative doesn’t feel helpful and comfortable for some of the chronic illness community.

When you think of your illness as something to fight against, what you can end up fighting against is your own body which just stresses it further. And if you’re not winning the fight, then by default you’re losing. 

Being in constant fight or flight mode is not good for your mental and physical health and neither is being seen as automatically brave or inspirational.

This added pressure on top of what you’re already dealing with is not helpful because some people who are fighting an illness don’t want to be engaged in a constant fight. They need a break and space to be able to complain sometimes, without the pressure of constantly needing to put in lots of effort or appearing inspirational.

On the days you can’t get out of bed due to what you’re going through, it’s not because you haven’t tried hard enough. Many of us become so accustomed to hiding our pain and the difficulties we face, and what we need is support and understanding. 

Using the warrior narrative means other people can’t forget that you’re still suffering.

Some doctors blame the patient for not improving and even argue that it’s important for people with chronic illness to not make it their identity or focus too much on it. And family and friends can get the impression that it’s possible to recover by sheer willpower if you just try hard enough. Talking about sickness as something you can always recover from is simply not true.

Living with a chronic illness is not a choice or automatically brave or inspirational, it’s just life!

The warrior narrative can be a helpful way of describing your experience but it can also perpetuate the idea that at some point you will beat chronic illness which isn’t possible.

It takes a lot more energy to battle against yourself than it does to just let go and accept and realise this is who you are. Once you do, you can start to see the possibilities that are in front of you, rather than the ones you’ve had to let go of.

Relief can be found in accepting yourself and your reality, rather than chasing after a future that gets further and further away, the harder you push.

If you’re a friend or loved one of someone who is chronically ill, one very supportive thing you can do is not send them back into battle by using the warrior narrative.

But if you do get something positive out of identifying as and being celebrated as a warrior then that’s great! You should get applauded through the hard days and it’s good to be heard in this way!

Just remember, you are still valid and awesome with or without the warrior narrative. You’re doing your best and that’s all that matters!