I'm Sick, but You Can't See It

I’m sick. I go through treatment at least once a week. I lived in the hospital for two months. But just by looking at me, you can’t tell I’m sick. That’s probably because it’s my brain that’s sick. There’s no outward physical symptoms, at least — that’s what common misconception says.

Yes, most of my illness takes place internally. But I live in pain. Every day offers a new challenge. There’s no magic pill to fix it. Instead, there’s multiple pills. Fourteen, every night, to be exact. I’m not a “pill head.” It helps me manage my mental illness. And yet, even then, managing my illness is still an uphill battle. It’s disruptive to my life, and it makes it difficult to do things like go to school or hold a job. It’s difficult to explain to teachers or a boss that I’m “too sad” to get out of bed, or that I was “too elated” to focus on my homework or drive. Or how do I explain to a landlord I couldn’t pay rent because I lost control and spent my rent money and I don’t even know where I spent it. I could sit down, and take the time to explain to everyone, but I still run the risk of not being taken seriously, because “it’s all in my head.”

I have a mental illness (well, I have multiple, but that’s not the point right now). It’s no secret, I’m public about it. And yet, my sickness still isn’t valid.

I take a medication for my nightmares I have at night. It’s not just a “bad dream” every once in a while. Every night I relive the worst moments, feelings and experiences of my life. I dream about how I’m going to kill myself, or about being threatened by someone. I dream about when I was sexually assaulted. This medication I take was originally designed to be a high blood pressure medication. So I have to be sure to drink a lot of water and monitor my blood pressure so I don’t pass out all the time. I also take a medication that raises my lithium levels. If the levels get too high, there could be significant damage to my kidneys and/or thyroid. So every few months I have to go into the lab and get blood drawn.

I have anxiety. Anxiety is usually the easiest one to spot, physically. I shake, fidget or get restless. I might even cry. In worse cases, I have panic attacks. I have medication I take which helps my anxiety. But what happens when my anxiety is so high the medication doesn’t take care of all of it? That’s when I discovered cutting. Cutting helps lower my anxiety. And to top it all off, cutting can become an addiction. Just like people can be addicted drugs or alcohol. Now I have scars.

Physical symptoms. Yet even with the scars, medication and blood pressure monitor, I still have an invisible and deeply misunderstood illness. I don’t receive get well cards, there are no flowers and balloons. No one brings over hot meals or offers to help with chores, or any of the other stuff usually coupled with being sick and/or in the hospital. I will always be sick. But I’m not going to let a day go by where I suffer in silence. I’m not ashamed of my illness. Mental illness is as real as any other sickness. Sometimes it’s more like the flu, other times it’s like cancer. No illness is any less valid than the other. I hope I live to see the day when that dream becomes a reality.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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