Friday, August 21, 2009

You Don't Look Sick

No, I don't look sick.

When you see me, I don't look so bad. So is anything really the matter with me?

First of all, "when you see me," is an important qualification. You only see me when I am able to get out.

The three out of four days, roughly, when I'm too ill to go out, you won't be seeing me. I probably won't get out of my pajamas some of those days, might not take a bath, might not get out of bed on the worst days. So many days I plan a two-mile bus trip to get groceries, only to have to put it off, too sick to do the walking, riding, carrying, and even the small amount of thinking and planning involved in a grocery run.

Second, even when you do see me, I'm not feeling as well as I look.

How well do I look? If you knew me before I got sick you might notice the lack of spring in my step, the absence of my usual bouyancy, and the stress of pain overlaying the former looks of humor and caring in my eyes.

If you don't know me so well or look so closely the pain might not be at all visible, but it's there, just like your pain is there when you have the flu.

Remember the last time you woke up horribly sick, on a day when you had something important to do? You probably got up anyway, ate, took a shower, got dressed, brushed teeth, hoping all the while that you would feel better once you were ready.

If you were really sick, you had to admit defeat, cancel your plans and collapse in bed, one huge ache.

What if you woke feeling that way every single day?

What if this continued for over two years?

That's where I am right now. I can't stay in bed every day. I have to go on taking care of bills and cooking, laundry and shopping, doing what school things I can with my kids, finding a way to clothe and house and feed us all. Nobody is taking care of any of that for me.

When you see me, I'm making a huge effort to be up on my feet and out in the world. Every minute, I'm wanting to go home and lie down. No matter what medicine I try, my head is aching, my whole body aches as if I have the flu, and sharp pain presses my chest. My mind is slowed down too, just like when you're so sick with flu you can't think clearly.

I don't look sick, but I can't do my left-brained writing work anymore. I kept trying until I reached the point where it was a huge effort to squeeze out four hours per week and I had to choke back pride and tears as I told my last client I couldn't take on another job.

I don't look sick, but when I have had to do some manual labor---just carrying moving boxes, or whacking weeds, or even toting those grocery bags up the hill from the bus stop---I stop in the middle often, wincing in pain, I push on through and do what has to be done, and I pay for it with several days of mind-numbing pain and exhaustion.

On those days, those ones where you don't see me, I hit moments when all I can do is cry.

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