When I Wish I Told a Teacher About My Invisible Illness


I still remember when I was first judged for having an invisible illness.

While I was in college, I had been experiencing some unexplainable and serious neurological symptoms. A CT scan showed there were a cluster of veins in my brain, and I needed an MRI scan to determine whether or not the abnormal brain cluster was serious.

I spoke with my supervising teachers about my medical situation and asked if I could leave the after-school meeting early, so I could attend my MRI appointment. They, of course, were completely understanding.

The after-school meetings are mandatory for both teachers and students. These meetings can get pretty tedious, and I can honestly say I never attended an after-school meeting that had been meaningful in any way. But I went to the meeting and stayed for an hour, hoping it would end before I had to leave for my MRI appointment.

At one point, I knew I couldn’t afford to wait any longer as I was pushing the time as it was. While I didn’t want to leave the meeting, I knew I had to go and had permission anyway. I told myself no one would say anything. I saw other people had left, and as far as I was aware, no one had blinked an eye.

I was a student.

A nobody.

And I was wrong.

As I quietly made my exit, a teacher — one I’d never met before — made a comment in a voice I’ll never forget. “Really? Already leaving? I guess some people are too important and have better things to do than attend meetings.”

As I turned to look at him in shock, he finished his taunt to a friend this time, dismissing me entirely with one word: “Pathetic.”

Anger raged through me. I’m the type of person who bites back. (I blame the red hair.) But shame filled me. And extreme pain. This man, filled with bitterness, judged me for leaving early without even considering the possibility that there was a reason for my early departure. I looked at him, and my expression was one that was torn between shock and devastation.

I couldn’t believe someone could say that or be so cruel. I wanted to tell him I was leaving to see an MRI technician, so I could get my results and then see a neurosurgeon to discuss the possibility of brain surgery. I wanted to tell him this had been plaguing me for months. There had been months of symptoms before seeing my doctor. It had been weeks before I could get in for a CT scan. It had been weeks after that before I could see a neurologist, who recommended I needed an MRI and a consultation with a neurosurgeon.

I wanted to tell him I was so afraid I felt sick to my stomach. I wish I’d told him all of that. But his coldness and the brutality of his statement had rendered me silent.

I eventually learned the cluster of veins in my brain was an arteriovenous malformation (AVM). Mine appears to be more than stable. Three or four MRIs in the past few years suggest it’s unlikely to change and I’m safe. It took years for me to reach that diagnosis, but that conclusion — and the diagnosis — could have been so different.

So stop. Stop judging. Stop assuming.

You have no idea what someone is going through at any given time. Perhaps it’s time to consider not making comments about things that aren’t visible to the eye. You never know what’s under the surface.

A version of this post was originally published on The Melodramatic Confessions of Carla Louise.

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