On Invisible Illnesses
I started writing this poem about a week ago, when I was feeling particularly low in many different ways. My body was in a sense, waging complete war against me with various physical and mental pains. I was feeling that my anxiety and depression episodes were getting more frequent; I had at least one day where it was tough to get out of bed, and difficult to even bring myself to care about anything that's going on that day. I could feel myself waking up with tremors and shakes due to anxiety, and all I wanted to do was lay back and go to sleep.
Then there was a day where I literally couldn't get out of bed because of physical pain and couldn't even leave the house and take care of responsibilities. At that point I felt so helpless and powerless, like my body and mind were going against me completely. In the midst of all this I noticed something: one of the first feelings I felt was guilt. I right away started beating myself up about not working hard enough, not being determined enough and just wasting time because of the pain. Now I seem to be back on track finally. But I've started thinking about invisible illnesses and how we see ourselves as far as chronic pain and mental health, as well as how people view us in that respect.
This past week I had what I could probably officially call the mother of all migraines. It was the worst pain I had ever felt from a migraine and it had me literally bedridden the whole day on Sunday. I had never experienced such a severe and long-term pain. It even caused me to be physically sick and throw up, which I knew was one of the main signs that a migraine is at its worst. It was so severe that the following week the pain still lingered, and now I feel like I'm getting more frequent tension headaches and even slight migraines come on because of certain triggers.
Due to this migraine, I wasn't able to finish my homework or studying for my statistics class the next day (which wasn't even that much work) because I felt so stricken by the pain literally couldn't even lift up my pencil or be in a room with the lights on. My body was definitely trying to send me some kind of message. It seemed that a combination of stress, anxiety and sinus pressure caused a literal boulder to rub against the inside of my temple for 24 hours. If any of you have ever had a migraine this bad, or worse, you know what I'm talking about. The hell of a headache caused me to also be out on Monday, and I had to get a doctor's note from my school's wellness center in order to be able to make up the test. This in turn caused me extreme anxiety, because I knew that even one sick day, would put me way behind on everything I had to do.
It's interesting, because I've never had a headache this bad to the point where I was bedridden, or had to miss school the day after. That week whenever I told people about it--whether it was my email to my professor, my boss or to my peers, I felt like I had to somehow justify that what I was going through was worse than it was. I often hear other people who get migraines talk about how they're afraid to even talk about it because they'll know some people won't take it as seriously. "Oh it's just a headache", they say, or "oh just take an advil," without realizing how much the pain can actually cripple you.
And this got me thinking about other chronic illnesses, pains and afflictions that aren't taken as seriously. This tends to create a dangerous environment for people who have these kind of invisible illnesses that can lead to serious reactions, such as seizures, strokes, severe anxiety or panic attacks, etc. In reality, everyone should feel comfortable about asking for help no matter what they're suffering from--they shouldn't have to fib or lie their way to have people to take their pain seriously. This is why there needs to be a deeper acceptance and understanding.
After a whole two days of suffering from a migraine, I can still feel a lingering headache that has been sticking around for about a week. I've always had bad headaches and back aches, but I can feel now as i'm getting older an more stressed, these symptoms are getting worse. It seems sad to think though, that even if I go to my doctor and get prescribed specific medicine for these chronic pains, I'll still be tempted to just say I have the flu.
It's similar with my mental health, which can cause both mental and even physical pain that prevent me from sometimes doing things in my daily life. I feel this pressure and guilt when I get an anxiety attack or feel like I'm generally having a bad mental health day. Granted, I usually have figured out how to adapt to when these attacks come on. But I still feel guilt for talking about it. So it really means a lot when people reply with an empathetic look and understand that yes, sometimes you just need a day. And it's particularly hard because I'm not "officially" diagnosed with anxiety, or should I say I'm not "medically" diagnosed. And I've heard and read a lot of hateful rhetoric talking about people with mental illnesses are just "faking it" to get through life easier. This is an absolutely cruel generalization, especially if you don't have all the information for the situation.
Engaging in conversation is such an important piece of this. I've seen a lot of people on social media help raise awaraness and movement towards creating more conversations surrounding different mental illnesses and disabilities. People being able to share their stories online, whether it's through Twitter, Facebook or other platforms, allows people to read other experiences and not feel so alone. Something simple but impactful that I discovered through my twitter, is a hasthtag called #TalkingAboutIt, created by writer and Twitter-user Sammy Nickalls (@sammynickalls). Nickalls created this campaign in order to start a conversation on a digital platform, where individuals can talk about their experiences with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues--no matter how big or small. Reading this hashtag has made me realize how many different pains that people can suffer from --both mental and physical--that are often forgotten.
After suffering through a severe amount of pain, started realizing how we think about our own pain and illnesses. Our society causes us to have a complex about ourselves, that our pain or afflictions are not as serious and shouldn't be paid attention to, unless they have the traditional severity that society has defined for us. These pains keep us from doing day to day things and takes a way a certain amount of power that we can have over our lives. Many people suffer from different kinds of pains and disorders that even doctors and medical professionals can define, and sometimes even deny that the person is in pain at all. There needs to be a push back against this attitude and this rhetoric. Because the things happening inside of us; our pain, our health, our well being, all of it. All of this impacts how we interact with the world and how we're able to succeed.
After this week, I stopped feeling guilty about missing that one day of class. That same week, I even allowed myself to have a mental health day because I could still feel my migraine lingering for a while. And while I plan on seeing a doctor and figuring out what else I can do, I'm taking the steps I can to take care of myself and not overwhelm myself with too much. I'm learning to listen to my body better, because I often ignore what my body is trying to tell me. We always tell ourselves we can just "get over it". If it's not a broken leg or a concussion, we should just power through it. But the truth is that us ignoring our body's signals can lead to much bigger issues. So we need our own support and understanding of our pain, and we need other people's as well.
While I was on the bus going to school, giving myself a moment to be still, I took a moment to thank myself that I even got out of bed at all. Maybe some people would think this is a very tiny thing to pat yourself on the back for, but it matters. When it comes to feeling mentally or physically drained, it's amazing at what we're able to survive through.
Useful resources talking about invisible illnesses: