Invisible Illness – But You Look Fine!

One of the hardest parts of living with an Invisible Illness such as Fibromyalgia, MS, Ehlers Danlos, etc. is that you quite often look just fine on the outside, while your insides are screaming in pain. This leads many people to wonder if you truly are ill, or how serious your illness actually is. How do you handle this, as a Person with Chronic Pain (PwCP)?Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 10.56.48 AM

For one thing, you should never have to make excuses for your pain to anyone. What you feel is what you feel, and there is never a reason to justify it or prove it, not even to your doctors. For years, people with Fibromyalgia went undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because Pain was often the only symptom a patient could describe. There are no other outward symptoms and nothing comes back in the blood tests or x-rays that a doctor might order. It’s only through using the 18 Tender Points and determining how many of them you have that a definitive diagnosis can be made for Fibro.

Other diseases often come with outward symptoms – the “butterfly rash” of lupus, the enlarged joints of Rheumatoid Arthritis, the dislocating joints of Ehler Danlos, the varying symptoms of MS – all of them a visual reminder that there is something wrong with a person. Fibro doesn’t present itself that way, and so a person can often look “normal” like everyone else, yet be in a flare up.

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So how do you handle it when the people who are closest to you don’t believe you are ill or doubt the severity of your illness. The first step is to educate them on what Fibromyalgia is: a disorder characterized by widespread pain, which causes many symptoms like extreme fatigue, sleep issues, memory loss and mood issues. It is essentially a very painful, exhausting disease, for which there is no cure and few treatments.” It is becoming much more recognized in the Medical field, unlike in the past, and is well accepted as a legitimate condition, just like arthritis, Lupus, MS, etc.

Basically, your brain miscommunicates with the nerves in the spinal cord and sends out the wrong messages to your body, resulting in an overload of symptoms. This graphic may be helpful in showing you just some of what you can experience:

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And this is the reason it’s such a hard disease to diagnose because these symptoms are often looked at just on their own, and not seen as part of the bigger picture. It’s no wonder people look at us and think we’re crazy. To have all these symptoms and yet still look perfectly normal on the outside…well, I’d wonder too perhaps. That’s where the education comes in. The more we teach people about Fibromyalgia and how it mimics so many other diseases, the more people will realize just how huge a burden we are carrying every day.

Nobody wants to be told they look awful though, so how do you break this Catch-22? You want people to see you as you really are, but you don’t necessarily want to look ill at the same time. Are you obligated to dress up and put on makeup everytime you go out, just to look “good” for strangers? Of course not, but I am advocating that you do it for yourself if you’re able. Run a brush through your hair, throw some lipstick on, go for a trendier haircut or a manicure. Never do it for someone else though and never let a stranger’s comments get to you. Only you know how you’re feeling at any point and sometimes it’s just not possible to do these sorts of things. Pain may get in the way, or finances or depression…in these times, just do the best you can with what you have in the way of energy and time and desire.

Remember…you are perfect just the way you are…everything else you do is a bonus.

Education of others is key, and I truly believe that the more we can share about Fibromyalgia and other Invisible Illnesses with them, the more they will understand what we are going through, and the more compassionate they will become. Perhaps then they will stop commenting on how “fine” we look, and will start seeing us in a true light. Maybe they will see our struggles, our problems, our symptoms and what we have to go through on a daily basis just to survive and finally understand how difficult our lives truly are. Then and only then will come the appreciation and admiration we’ve been waiting for.

There is always hope.

 

Interview October – Maria

It’s time to meet our next Guest for Interview October. This is Maria Thomas

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photo credit: Amy Boyle Photography

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…  

My name is Maria Thomas, and I’m a writer, editor, content creator and book nerd. Seven years ago I launched my blog, My Life as a Puddle, where I’m creating hyperhidrosis hope and awareness one drop at a time.

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

Hyperhidrosis (excessive uncontrollable sweating), ulcerative colitis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

My symptoms/condition began… 

Hyperhidrosis- age 7

UC – age 33

Hashimoto’s – age 36, and I found out by accident after some bloodwork!

My diagnosis process was… 

A long time coming for my Hh. I found the term in a Google search but didn’t get a proper diagnosis until age 21.

UC – the perfect storm. I was going through a divorce, selling the first home I ever owned, and moving into a tiny little apartment. It was a trifecta of stressful events and my body decided to respond with blood in my stool and a frequent need to go.

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is… 

Hh – Getting people to understand that I am not sweating because I am nervous. I’m nervous BECAUSE I’m sweating. There’s a difference. It’s also hard for people to understand how much my life and choices are affected by my sweating. It’s not “just a little sweat.” I try not to let it rule my life but sometimes it does.

UC – having a chronic autoimmune condition makes me tired sometimes, and more prone to GI pain and distress. I’m not high maintenance, but I’ve really had to overhaul the way I eat, which can make it difficult to eat out sometimes. I now follow a Paleo nutrition plan, which is hard when you live in a state known for its craft beer, which is unfortunately loaded with gluten.

I also have to stab myself every other week with a biologic injectable medication. Try that with sweaty hands!

A typical day for me involves… 

Turning my desk fan on and off at least 25 times a day while at work, then coming home and changing my sweaty clothes and socks if necessary. If I’ve worn sandals, I’ll usually wash my feet since they’ve developed a coating from sweating.

UC-wise I never know when I’ll experience symptoms. I’m in remission now, but occasionally I’ll have gurgling sounds and stabbing pains in my lower abdomen.

Hashimoto’s-wise, sometimes I feel so lethargic it’s like i haven’t slept in days. Other days I feel like I could run a marathon.

The one thing I cannot live without is… 

My books, my husband, and my Pug named Maya

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

To listen to my body and take care of it. I was hospitalized once because of my ulcerative colitis. It was scary and miserable and terribly isolating. It also taught me to be my own best health advocate. I had nurses trying to feed me grains and gluten and dairy. Not once did my GI doctor at the time say gee, you might want to avoid all that stuff. I had to seek out a functional medicine doctor to learn all of that and switch to a Paleo diet.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

Do your research! Read the medical literature, read books, and absolutely go see a functional medicine Doctor who treats the whole body as a system and doesn’t just prescribe medications to cover up symptoms.

My support system is…

My husband and my family

If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would… 

Go on a public speaking tour and wear high heels without no-show socks or absorbent insoles because I wouldn’t be worried about sweating all over everything ! Then I’d do a meet and greet and shake everyone’s hand.

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

I get to choose how I respond to my life, which is why I choose to make my sweaty mess my message. You can either rise up or stay below. All it takes is one different choice.

My links are:

https://www.facebook.com/mylifeasapuddle/
https://twitter.com/MyLifeAsAPuddle
https://www.instagram.com/mylifeasapuddle/