Journey Man is viewed by many as a blog about living with multiple sclerosis, which was not my intention. It just happened. I set out to write about the chronic illness explosion in America and around the world. MS of course is a chronic condition. Approximately 400 thousand Americans live with the disease. When I wrote Strong at the Broken Places in 2008, 90 million Americans battled chronic diseases. Now 133 million of us, nearly half the population, fight chronic illnesses.
As a nation, 75 percent of our health care dollars go to the treatment of chronic diseases. That is what is breaking the healthcare system. These are not abstract numbers. They are people: you and me, our parents and kids, friends and neighbors. Politicians fix on numbers when he real crisis is with human beings.
The cause of the huge patient bulge is demographics, the culprits, aging baby boomers. Eighty-five percent of individuals over sixty-five have a chronic illness, fifty percent have two. Our national photograph is one of a nation of sickness.
One striking lesson of Strong at the Broken Places is that these chronic conditions, heart disease, some cancers, mental illnesses and many others, all are different. They strike various parts of the body and affect many systems. The coping issues that go with them, however, the practical problems and psychological fallout, are remarkably similar. Many of us watch our own deterioration as spectators, feeling helpless and horrified.
The inevitability of physical decline is a sad fact of life. There is nothing anybody can do about it but endure the ride. In fact, the train already has left the station for so many. With chronic conditions, there is no endpoint. These illnesses are incurable, and the script has not yet been finished.
And so we learn to live with ambiguity. The ride is a descent of various angles and turns. My rate of decline most certainly will not match my neighbor’s. The speed varies. But we do not get better. That is a fact.
Chronic conditions can be managed and lives sustained, but have no illusions. The clock is ticking. My slide down seems to be picking up speed. I am trying to figure out how to deal with that. I cannot change it. The trick is to cope and move on.
We can live in that dream world of denial. I have spent my fair share of time there. Denial is the land of how we would like life to be. Illness that cannot be controlled does not fit in there. There are no Faustian bargains. We hold no chips.
Our pride and self-worth, hope and faith in the future are at stake. I hope these issues become the stuff of our conversations. They certainly are the challenges individuals with MS face. Our brothers and sisters who know other illnesses all too well share the same stake. All of us serve in the same army. We could start a revolution.