I know I look flaky when, after calling out the day before, I come in to work and seem fine. I even have a smile on my face. How could she, some people must wonder, have been too sick to come in? I often wonder the same thing.
The thing about chronic illness is it tends to come and go in what are called “flareups” and “remissions.” When you say the word “remission,” a lot of people think cancer, but the word really just means
lessening of intensity; abatement, as in the severity of symptoms of a disease
Remission can happen at any time. For days before this Nor’easter we just got hit with, I woke up stiff, the stiffness progressing into a deep ache by midday. Oddly enough, yesterday morning — right before the storm — I felt better. I still wasn’t quite as limber and felt a little pain, but I could move around a lot better. I’m definitely affected by changes in weather, so something must have changed right before the snow started falling, giving me a bit of a rest. Even today I feel almost normal. Almost.
Healthy people also don’t understand that just because you don’t “look” sick, doesn’t mean you aren’t under the weather. When I’m having a flareup, I often show no physical signs, unless you know to look for redness and swelling in my joints and the dark circles under my eyes. I can easily fix my eyes with makeup, though, and most people never notice my anatomy. I can throw on some red lipstick and make myself look more than just normal; I look like I’m having the time of my life. When someone healthy asks me how I’m doing and I answer “eh,” they always look surprised. What could possibly be wrong with you? I can almost hear them thinking.
I haven’t personally encountered this, but I know of people with chronic illnesses who, after being unable to work for a long period of time, started working again and were questioned by some people. “How can you work?!” they say. “I thought you were sick!” We have to work, just like everyone else. We have bills to pay, and it actually depresses some of us if we are unable to work. I even know of people who were interrogated by other people who want to know “Why don’t you work?!” Many of us feel guilty enough that we can’t work, or run errands, or other things. We don’t need to be harassed.
For a long time, I tried to pretend to be normal. I’m learning that I can’t act normal because I’m not normal. I wish that I wouldn’t be met with skepticism and sometimes even sarcasm when discussing my illness with others. It’s sad that most people who don’t have blatant physical signs of illness are met with raised eyebrows and snarky comments. Hopefully, through patience on our part and willingness on the part of people who don’t suffer from chronic illness, we can raise awareness and prevent sickies from feeling alienated.
It can be frustrating and you might feel like you’re being interrogated, but when you get those questions, try to remember to:
- Take a deep breath.
- Calmly explain that thankfully you still have your good looks, despite feeling like microwaved zombie.
- Tell the person a bit about your illness.
If you are being harassed or feel uncomfortable, though, make your excuses and remove yourself from the conversation. If you are at work, file a complaint with your human resources person if necessary. You don’t deserve to be bullied.