I suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, and IBS. On top of these three invisible illnesses, I also suffer from two mental illnesses: clinical depression and a severe anxiety disorder (brought on by a traumatic experience). As a result, I constantly hear the words: “But you don’t look sick.” Sometimes I’m sure it’s meant as an accusation. Which, in case you think I’m being paranoid, is true. I actually had some supposedly “close” friends abandon me soon after I fell ill. For some people, I guess, it’s only okay to be ill for so long, otherwise you’re labelled as a drama queen.
“But you don’t look sick.” Sometimes those who utter this phrase truly believe it’s a compliment. They’re my friends and my family members, and I guess they want me to feel normal, reassure me that I look normal. I guess they want to make me feel like I’m okay, which is kind and sweet. And while it’s nice in many ways, it implies that being sick means you need to have a certain look to be sick, which brings me to the third group of people who utter this statement: Those who are generally perplexed to hear that I am ill, because I simply don’t look it.
I don’t know what you see when you look at this photo. What I know, is that this photo was taken after I deliberately hurt myself because I was in so much pain. This is what it looks like to suffer from depression. It’s not always a constant, can’t get out of bed, overwhelming sadness. Sometimes depression comes with smiles, makeup, and pretty dresses that help to mask the truth.
This is what someone with a severe anxiety disorder looks like. I panicked about attending my best friend’s wedding. I panicked about how I looked, if I was fat, what people would think, how I would survive the day, if I would let my best friend down…everything and anything. But no one sees that inner turmoil. They see the smiles that cover it, and perhaps the mess behind it.
This is the face of someone who needs multiple rests, stops, breaks. Who needs to carefully plan each day, count spoons she doesn’t always have, and sometimes falls asleep in random places. This is what someone who is chronically ill looks like. You see this picture on a good day–the days that I’m able to get out of bed. The days that the pain isn’t overwhelming and I haven’t slept for twenty hours a day from fatigue. I might not always look sick, but you don’t see the bad days. You don’t see the days I’m so tired I literally need help moving. You don’t see the pain that takes over my body. You don’t see the depressive episodes and the anxiety attacks. And that’s okay. I don’t want you to see it. But it also doesn’t mean I’m not sick, and we need to stop assuming that appearances mean everything.
[Photo credits to Carla Robinson]
Like what you read? “Heart” this story above, comment below, or consider submitting your own story