Illustrating member perspectives on life with chronic illness

Posted November 17th, 2017 by

In medical terms, most health conditions have clear definitions. But only people living with chronic illness know what it really feels like to live with it — and making others understand can be a challenge.

When we asked some PatientsLikeMe members to explain what life was like with their condition, their responses painted vivid pictures of what they’re going through. So, we asked PatientsLikeMe User Experience Designer Kristina Ng to turn those descriptions into illustrations. Depicting life with lupus, multiple sclerosis, mental health and more, Kristina’s illustrations sparked a discussion in the PatientsLikeMe community.

Battling cluelessness and confusion

Member Tommy Dubuque was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in October 2002, though he’d been experiencing symptoms long before that. “I first noticed symptoms in the mid 1990’s. My youngest daughter told my wife that sometimes my hand would shake. It was getting harder for me to get out of chairs and get up from the ground if I was doing yard work. I just attributed it to old age and not taking care of myself as a young man.”

Tommy was forced to retire in 2006, but that didn’t stop him from staying physically active. “I began physically working hard around our property.” He remodeled a bathroom, built a stone patio, removed an above-ground swimming pool and more. “I was just trying to figure out how not to take my anger out on others. That’s when I realized that PD may win the war, but I can fight the battles and do that to the best of my ability every day.”

How does Tommy describe life with Parkinson’s disease? Take a look…

Tommy has been a PatientsLikeMe member since 2007, and has been connecting with others like him for ten years. “I found a community of wonderful caring people. We were like a small rural community even though we were spread out across the world… This is an isolating disease that makes some people embarrassed about how their body moves, and reclusive, so I make sure to welcome new members.”

Knocking down barriers

Larry Tilson is a PatientsLikeMe member living with ALS. He shared his story with us by typing with his eyes using Eye Gaze technology. “My first sensation of not being able to move came in the winter of 2007, when I started having trouble buttoning a shirt and tying my shoes. It felt like something was restricting my movement.”

Gradually, Larry says the feeling progressed from his hands to his lower arms, then to his back and core muscles. “It feels like I am pushing through an ever-thickening invisible substance.”

Larry is in a different place now than the initial disbelief he felt when he was diagnosed. When he began to research he discovered other people living with ALS were living productive lives. “That’s when I decided to accept the fact that I have ALS and fight to stay productive. I don’t lie down. I try each day to find a way to enrich someone else’s life in some way.”

Take a look at how Larry describes life with his condition…

What’s Larry’s focus these days? “I try to knock down a barrier, help to change a rule, right a wrong, or contribute to science in some way like sharing my information on PatientsLikeMe. That is what makes me smile. To touch someone else’s life in a positive way, whether they know it or not.”

Interested in seeing the rest of this illustration series? Join the PatientsLikeMe community and view the rest of the images in the forum.

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