But you don’t look sick

One of the hardest parts of having a disease like Rheumatoid Arthritis is that it’s categorized as an “invisible illness”. Unless you’re one of the unfortunate ones that has visual bone deformities that cause your hands and feet to look gnarled and broken, you can’t actually see if I’m having a bad day. Besides the pain etched on my face, which is rare because I hide it so well, I look like a normal girl living a normal life.

You only see what I’m willing to show you. And I’m so god damned stubborn and proud that I don’t want you to see anything. Lucky for me you’re not in my room when I wake every day at 5am to take the first dose of my Rheumatoid cocktail, as I’ve come to call it. You don’t see me struggle with the easy-open pill cap because my hands are so swollen and tight that I don’t have enough strength to pop the top off. My room mate doesn’t see me fight with the zipper and button on my denim shorts for ten minutes before giving up and throwing yet another sun dress on because it’s just easier in the long run. And most certainly does no one see me when I’m in the kitchen searching for something to eat as quickly as possible because it’s killing me to just stand there on my swollen feet.

No, you see the Christine that I want to show. The one with the smile on her face, and pep in her step, telling every single person that asks her how she’s doing that she’s fine. “I’m optimistic about my treatments” is my go-to standard answer. Am I lying? Of course I am. I feel like shit. My body is screaming in pain, my joints are tender and swollen, I probably have a migraine, I most definitely want a nap.

But let’s be honest. You don’t want to hear that. Because let’s face it, when we ask how someone is doing, we’re looking for a standard answer. No one wants a long explanation on what’s going on in that person’s life. They want a short perfunctory answer because they’re being polite. It’s human nature to want to talk about yourself and listen less. If they hear a less than satisfactory answer then they have to engage even deeper and ask what’s wrong or even worse, ask what they can do to help.

So here I am with this plastic smile on my face, assuring everyone that I’ll be fine. That I’m taking it one day at a time and that surely remission is just around the corner waiting for me. It’s easier that way isn’t it? Because you’re looking at me and I don’t look sick. I look fine. And maybe a part of you wonders how sick I really am if I look this normal.

How can a 33 year old woman have a chronic illness that is slowly killing her?
Why is she holding that cane, is she holding it for someone?
Why is she parked in a handicap stall? She seems to be walking okay..
How does she have a disability bus pass? Or a handicap
placard for the car?
All these questions.

Because I don’t look sick. But just because I don’t look it, doesn’t mean that everyday of my life isn’t a struggle. I don’t look sick.
But I am. And it’s not my job to make society see it.

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