Invisible Illnesses

Referring to my previous discussion (see “Ageless”), age is just a number. We often hear people say that children are “too young” to have certain diseases or that some are “too old” for a certain complication. The truth of the matter is that most health concerns don’t go by a person’s age. When this happens, the person’s age falters leaving its patient to go through obstacles that the “ordinary” or “normal” people their age hasn’t gone through.  One could assume that you can mentally progress in age over the course of the proper amount of years it takes (much thanks to science’s discoveries) or in a matter of days depending on what one goes through (having to take care of a family at thirteen years of age, etc.). The experiences we, as humans, go through shape us into who we are….at least that’s what I believe. Contributing factors could play a great hand into this experience blend that we so often don’t think about. Think about it: Have you ever taken the time to reflect on the reasons why you are the way you are? Why your personality is the way it is? Your memory may trace back to when you were five years old wondering around amongst other peers your age or when you were a sophomore in high school. Certain events stick with you.

I remember when I was in grade school touching things three, nine, fifteen times (my “odd numbers” preference) suffering knowing that something was wrong with me in silence. I didn’t tell my great, engaging parents in fears of being “crazy”. Bottom line? The undiagnosed OCD led me to develop Anorexia Nervosa which led to several problems down the line. At eleven years old, I started an innocent “diet” which spiraled out of control so much that I was put on 24 hour watch with my parents taking turns checking if I was still breathing when I slept. On the verge of cardiac arrest at any moment, I was told to write a will and pick out my casket as death seemed to come at any moment. Long story short, when I returned to school (after being put on homebound) in the eighth grade, I would lie when my fellow classmates asked where I’ve been. Little did I know that this illness was invisible to others as I seemed “health” from the outside. I roamed the halls with a quiet mouth, but a loud mind and a weak body.

In high school, I always wondered how my fellow classmates would react if they knew I almost died three times (last rites read and all), that I’m sitting in class dazed from all the medication, and so much more. I was the quiet “geek” in the corner. Lengthy insomnia episodes made me stay up all night  and go to school like I got a full night’s rest. No wonder why I would sit silently steaming when I overheard conversations of how some one was so exhausted after only getting six hours of sleep. My jealous emotion was a typical reaction. I was always one (still am yet I’m getting better at opening up somewhat thanks to social media) to avoid attention at all cost; therefore, when my heart rate spiked or dropped suddenly, the dull school bathrooms was my safe place to close my eyes and breathe without all eyes on me. I didn’t go to prom because I felt like I didn’t belong there. Of course, I was friendly and people were friendly toward me, but I didn’t have friends long. I would push people away afraid of not being accepted. Prior to this, I moved down to South Carolina from NYC, so making friends wasn’t exactly my forte.  Fast forward to today, and my OCD, ADHD, recovery from an ED, heart conditions, motor Tourette’s, hypotension, and speech impairment doesn’t hold me back. I’m not afraid to let people find out about me as much as I was then. 

We all go through tough times and no one’s battle too inferior to another person; however, don’t take that out of context. It’s my opinion that having cancer is a million times worse than having a cold. Although this was always my belief even years ago, I couldn’t’ help but get annoyed when I overheard my fellow classmates talk about their little problems like having no plans for Friday night making their lives “so miserable”. I shook off my envious thoughts by being grateful for the things I have and always keeping in mind that there are a surplus of other people going through worse obstacles than me. At least I had a roof over my head and a warm plate of food. Many people don’t have that luxury so who I am to complain?

I keep hoping that the common phrase of “You don’t look sick” and judging others in comparison of what the other person is capable of ceases (or at least decreases slightly…any bit helps I feel like). Invisible Illnesses are real and all around. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but it’s human nature to fall so easily to such stereotypes and typical popular thoughts. It’s very easy to criticize people who are in bed all day for three days a week yet stop to think. Have you ever thought their battling something? Not every one has a high threshold of pain (both physically and mentally). Some people attack issues head on while others work at a much slower pace. Both ways are okay and its about time that we acknowledge that. I’ll save the discussion of being resilient for another post….

Promoting awareness for Invisible Illnesses is easy. The tough part is getting people to understand that sometimes the people smiling the most are frowning inside. We all fight battles that no one else would expect. We don’t know what goes on inside people’s minds and bodies just by looking at them just like we don’t know what happens behinds closed doors. Don’t judge and pass comments on how a person doesn’t “look” sick. That person might be fighting more battles at that moment than you could think of. I encourage everyone who may read this to educate themselves about invisible illnesses and to help spread positivity to people’s lives. The person who is staring into space on line at the supermarket and didn’t realize she was next to check out? That person is going through a mini seizure. The “healthy” looking man who took the last motorized scooter at a theme park? That man is extremely weak going through chemo for Stage Four cancer. That man is my father.  Be patient with us please.  That is all for now.



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