#nofilter: identifying the lens of chronic illness

My favourite part of an eye test is when the optician puts those crazy retro glasses on you and slots different lenses in to work out your new prescription. It fascinates me that those little circles of glass can mean the difference between a blurry black mess and crystal clear letters.

I’ve been thinking about how each of us has a complex and unique prescription in front of our eyes. All of our memories, experiences and challenges cause us to see things in a certain way, and we can go through life without even realising. Sometimes these filters can help us see things positively, but often they cloud or darken the world around us.

Chronic illness is a huge fat lens that has an impact on how I see every aspect of life. I sometimes imagine chronic illness as a camera filter over the lens of my perception – pain, worry and fatigue can colour and warp the things I see and hear. It has an especially big impact on my view of how others see me.

I was talking to a friend this morning about the mismatch that can come between what we say and how it is received. She has been trying to communicate love and care for someone in a difficult situation, but they feel brushed off. She is at a loss as to how she can demonstrate her concern any further. We reflected that you can’t change how someone hears you, and that there is responsibility in how we receive support as well as in how we give it.

A few months ago I posted about choosing not to be offended by seemingly insensitive comments. I have been thinking a bit more about how the baggage of a long-term condition can affect how we see and hear things. And whether it is possible to choose something different.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about negative, nasty comments you might receive. They can be immensely hurtful and damaging and I think they need to be dealt with in an entirely different way (I’m sure many of you will have suggestions!)

But with friends and loved ones I believe we can re-tune our senses to assume the best of them. When we take things with good grace, it’s much better for our own wellbeing and the relationship in question.

I recognise the immense strain that chronic illness can put on our minds, and sometimes it can feel impossible to see the positive. I’m just hopeful that if we can recognise that the ‘chronic illness filter’ exists, we can make choices that will help us feel more connected to the people we love, rather than more isolated from them.

Here’s the steps in my own journey to ‘see without filter’ so far:

  1. Recognise it’s there
    It’s hard to deal with an issue if you can’t see that it’s there. For me, I have to take a conscious pause to think about my response to comments. That takes effort, but it’s worth it.
  2. Put the comment/action in context
    Once I’ve taken that moment to reflect, I try to consider what someone might mean in the context of our existing relationship. It’s been like retraining my brain to run a different course. An example: my husband recently had the audacity to suggest doing some exercise might be good for my health. Through the filter I heard: “He thinks you’re lazy. He thinks you could be doing things to avoid feeling like this, therefore your illness is your own fault.” Without filter: “He loves me and wants to see me happier and healthier. He’s right, I do need to see if I can find some exercise that works for me.” Thinking about what I know of my husband, I believe the latter is more accurate. When I was able to hear the ‘no-filter’ comment, I could take it as constructive. It spurred me on to actually do something about my lack of fitness. I’ll admit that in this instance the ‘filter reaction’ did leave my mouth, but hearing it out loud was actually quite helpful!
  3. Be open
    Which leads me to letting it out. I’ll put my hands up – I’m pretty terrible at this. I tend to keep my thoughts inside if I’m offended, but it’s harder to deal with when it’s all internalised. And impossible for those around you to know the effect they are having. After the intensity of the moment has passed, it’s important to share with the person (with care) how their words have made you feel.
  4. Take the opportunity
    Sometimes people’s comments come from a lack of knowledge and they present a good opportunity to educate someone about your condition. Take the chance to share the facts, or describe what life is really like for you.

No one likes to hear that they might be seeing things from a negative perspective. But when we identify a lens, we can make a choice to do something about getting a new prescription. Adjusting my responses is helping my relationships and meaning I live with less bitterness and resentment.

If you have any tips on ‘removing the filter’, I’d love to hear them! Drop a comment below or follow me on Twitter


  1. Great post – I totally agree about the mismatch about what we say and how it is received. I have come to realise more and more that comments I may have painfully dissected and worried about, have been said without malice or thoughtlessness – and actually these friends and family would be so upset if they thought they had upset me. I love your concept of the chronic illness filter – well said, Claire x


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