As I’ve always unconsciously understood, illness is a condition in which one feels ill. Of course this may be the symptomatic manifestation of a particular disease, a vague notion of being un-well, or even the ramifications of a long Thursday night in East Lansing. A state of illness can be defined well as a “lack of health”. Though something may be defined just as much by what it is not as by what it is, I believe that regarding the notion of illness and health, defining these terms in this way presents them as limitingly binary. While the concept of health too can be defined by lack of illness, this doesn’t allow for much room for qualification. For instance, there are different levels of health and different ways in which individuals perceive these levels. Another case that I imagine disturbs the binary definition of illness-vs.-health is that of the anorexic. Anorexia is a physically detrimental condition ad in extreme cases can even result in death—in this way anorexia fits the definition for an illness. However, the anorexic him or herself may reap certain mental benefits that are attached to the pursuit of skinniness and beauty. In short the issue is complicated, and the binary model of definition is one that makes the most practical sense in a clinical setting. I think my perceptions of sickness and health is largely characterized by my own personal experience with these states, as well as observing other in the various stages of disease or those who are living seemingly “healthy” lives.
I should start by clarifying that no condition on the list given in the activity lecture struck me as either entirely a disease or entirely an illness. There is significant overlap between these terms so instead I will highlight some terms that troubled me when placing them even in relative disease-or-illness categories. Old age is one such condition. While there may be myriad physical symptoms of growing old (and just as many diseases associated with this process), there is a truly personal aspect to the process of aging; particularly around one’s perception of him or herself as “old”. Though certain deteriorations are inevitable, one may cushion the process of aging (and all of its mental baggage) by maintaining a young-person’s mindset.
Another disease that could fit within the “illness” category is anxiety. There certainly are clinically diagnosable symptoms of anxiety, so many so that effective drugs have been developed to combat the condition, but the way an individual perceives his or her anxiety is, again, very personal. What might cause an anxiety attack may differ from person to person, and the severity of each episode may also be variable. Though the feeling of drowning and racing thoughts may be across the board characteristic of this condition, the different ways an individual arrives at the onset of these symptoms makes anxiety just as much of an illness as a disease.