What I Remember on Days I Don't Feel Beautiful With Chronic Illness

When I met my husband six years ago, I was a svelte size four or maybe, on a “bad” day, a six. I worked with a personal trainer and ran three miles most days. I had a closet full of trendy clothes and like most women, a deep desire to be considered beautiful. While I certainly wasn’t considering a career as a supermodel, most days I felt “pretty cute.” But it felt tenuous, like a few extra pounds or the wrong haircut could take it all away.

I wanted my husband, Ryan, to feel proud to introduce me to his friends. I wanted him to look at me from across a room and think, “I can’t believe she married me.” But the fatigue, pain and infections that had begun to pick up speed during our dating days overtook me early in our marriage. By the time our five-month wedding anniversary rolled around, I was in the neurology unit of our local hospital, and Ryan was walking me to and from the bathroom. Let me tell you, it was super sexy. I picked up weight at an alarming rate. The texture of my hair changed. It began to fall out. I was too tired to put on makeup or change out of my pajamas most days. My high heels were exchanged for joint-friendly flats. I wasn’t feeling like much of a “prize.”

It took several years for the doctors to uncover the root of all of the sickness (Lyme disease, an immunodeficiency disorder called common variable immune deficiency and rheumatoid arthritis [RA]). So for quite some time, I just felt ugly. The perplexing thing was, my husband didn’t seem to notice. While I was often disgusted by my appearance in the mirror, he wasn’t. While I hated myself for being so ugly and needy, he seemed to love me just the same. How was that possible?

But then when I thought about it, the times in my life I’d felt most beautiful didn’t have anything to do with makeup or high heels. They were the days in front of my students in the classroom when someone “really got it.” They were the days I chose to love fiercely when I could have run away. They were the days I snuggled with my son reading bedtime stories, exhausted and enamored. Was it possible these were the things that made me “beautiful?” Could I be a different size and still be beautiful?

This morning my stiff, claw-like RA hand dropped my brand-new mineral makeup in the sink with running water and ruined it. Even after a half a can of dry shampoo, my hair was so greasy it looked like I’d tried to fry a hamburger on it. And I looked at myself in the mirror and cried for the first time in a long time. We were running late. I didn’t have time to cry. Or shower. So off we went, as a family, which happens so rarely. As we sat at lunch, my husband looked over at our daughter and said, “You are so beautiful. You look just like your mommy.” How could he know my struggle with this very thing on this very day when I hadn’t said a thing?

On the way home, I turned to him and said, “I’m sorry I’m so ugly and a pain in the butt.” He looked sincerely shocked. And then I remembered. The things that make me beautiful to him, to my kids, to the people who love me, have nothing to do with my size. They have nothing to do with my mineral makeup or (lack of) luxurious hair.

So to the illnesses that helped me find my true beauty, that help me find it again and again, day after day… Thank you.

P.S. Hey reader — Hair or no hair, regardless of the numbers on the scale or the clothes you have on right now: You are so beautiful.

Parents with children smiling on green lawn with lake in background
Stacey, her husband Ryan and their children.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing you thought on the day of your or a loved one’s diagnosis that you later completely changed your mind about? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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