Something that can be incredibly difficult when you have a chronic illness is disclosure. Its difficult to know when to tell someone about your arthritis, who to tell, and how much. For me I’ve always taken a very open approach to telling those around me about my juvenile arthritis. It’s no secret to those who know me, because I’ve never really seen why it should be. Arthritis is just one part of who I am, it’s not what I am, and as such I have always talked about it to anyone who has wanted to know. However, while I say that I’m very open about it it’s not something that I chose to spread around, or which I necessarily talk about without prompting. This is in part because I don’t want to be that girl, the one whose always complaining about her joints, her pain, her problems. I worry if I talk about it too much people may like me less, but I also don’t want to impose my problems onto others. In a way I want to shield them from all the pain, worry, and uncertainty that comes with having a chronic illness. I’m happy for people to know, but sometimes I worry if they know too much or I talk about it too much they will stop seeing me as just me, but instead see me as their friend with arthritis.
Recently I applied to medical schools and made the hard decision to disclose my juvenile arthritis in my personal statement. I decided to talk about it, because having juvenile arthritis is one of the driving forces behind my decision to go into medicine, and the initial instigator of my interest in medicine as a career. Since my diagnosis my love for medicine has grown and surpassed simply a desire to go into this field because of my own personal experiences, and yet my understanding of who I am and what I want to do would not be the same without the medical experiences that I have had due to my chronic illness. Given this, it seemed impossible to omit this crucial part of myself, and so I disclosed my diagnosis and focused on the ways it has enabled me to grow as a person and prepare myself for a career in medicine. While I do not regret my choice to disclose to medical schools that I have been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis, there is still a little voice in my head that has doubts about it every time I get a rejection letter. I know that these can happen for a number of reasons, not least because the application process is so competitive. But I still can’t help but wonder if disclosing my illness hurt my chances, if it allowed people to wonder about my capability both now and in the future. If instead of showing how much I’ve grown and how far I’ve come due to my chronic illness experiences, it instead showed my weaknesses and devalued my worth. The thing is even if none of this is happening, it highlights the true emotional struggle that comes with disclosure of a chronic illness, because while my fear about the medical school process is not founded in anything in particular, my distrust of how others will interpret my illness experience and see me as a person with a chronic illness is founded on experience. While most everyone I’ve told about my illness has been great, there have been those who have doubted my capability, who have seen me as less than because of my illness. Sometimes I have even had my own self doubts about my worth. So as I move forward I am trying to re-evaluate how much I want to disclose to people, who I want to disclose things to, and when. And it is a very hard thing to do, because while I am not arthritis, arthritis is a part of who I am. It has shaped me, allowed me to grow and mature as a person, and I while I currently have doubts about whether I feel comfortable being as open as I have been, I also feel like hiding this side of me would be a loss, to both myself and others.