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22 Photos That Prove Chronic Illness Doesn't 'Go Away' When You're Having Fun

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“Chronic” illnesses don’t just keep you in bed for a few weeks and then go away — they stay, settling into your daily routine and becoming a part of how you navigate the world. Your illness doesn’t really care if you have amazing weekend plans with your friends or that you leave on vacation next week — it still might rear its head while you’re trying to have fun and “forget” you’re sick for a while. But what that so often means for chronic warriors is that people see you having an awesome day, either because they were there or because of photos that were posted on social media, and then they might start to think, “Oh, she looks like she’s doing a lot better now!” or “I thought she was sick? Guess not?”

Sometimes, a photo of yourself looking “well” does indicate that you are feeling well. But, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, you’re smiling on the outside, but exhausted, in pain, worried about upcoming appointments, anxious, depressed, or feeling any number of “invisible” symptoms. Sometimes, you do something fun in order to make memories, remind yourself that there’s more to you than your illness, and maintain friendships — even though your body will pay for it later. And people don’t always understand that disconnect between how you look and how you feel.

So, we asked our Mighty community to share a photo of themselves having fun, as well as the truth about what they were feeling “behind the scenes.” The photos you shared prove not only that it is in fact possible to have fun and still be dealing with health challenges — but they also prove how strong our community is for being able to find joy even in the midst of pain.

Here’s what our Mighty community shared with us:

1. “At the petting zoo during my local fair. I had an amazing time, but my joints and neck were killing me the entire time. My spine felt like it was going to collapse and the heat made me feel like I was constantly on the verge of blacking out. It’s gotten easier to hide the pain, if I weren’t wearing a knee brace you’d never know there was something ‘wrong’ with me. ‘Invisible illnesses aren’t actually invisible, they’re just well hidden.’” — Harley B.

woman at petting zoo with rabbit

2. “Went to Comic Con as Red Riding Hood and got to meet Daniel Gillies. I was over the moon and really enjoyed myself. What the picture doesn’t show is the extreme pain I was in and had to keep sitting down crying from dislocations from my Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, fibromyalgia and my postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). I had to spend at least five days in bed recovering… but was worth it – just look at the grin.” — Jade W.

woman dressed as red riding hood standing with Daniel Gillies

3.The day of my maternity photos and practically my whole pregnancy. What people don’t see is the struggle to keep my Hashimoto’s symptoms at bay, and cope with the lack of educational material for having hypothyroidism during pregnancy. The fear of knowing baby strictly relied on my thyroid hormones for the first three months and that the risk of miscarriage was extremely high. But here we are just under two weeks away from our due date and meeting our sweet baby boy (photo credit to Stacy Creations Photography).” — Alysha M.

woman's maternity photo wearing long dress that looks like wings

4. “My wedding day. It was the most beautiful magical incredible day of my life but it doesn’t show any of my disabilities or illnesses in this particular photo. You can’t see my excruciating pain, my vomiting, my nausea. You can’t see my lines, bags, pumps and other medical devices. You can’t see my disability aids or that fact I had to be lifted in and out of my chair all day which let me tell you was interesting in this wedding dress. I look like any other bride. Full of love and pure happiness. It was the most incredible day and so glad I get to call Reign my wife.” — Leigh B.

two brides sitting on grass surrounded by trees

5. “Going to my college’s homecoming for the first time in years. I was in the hospital days before due to passing out. Behind the smile and makeup was dizziness and nausea and crushing chest pain but I really wanted to be social after being in bed for days. I hung as long as I could!” — Jae M.

woman sitting on glowing bench

6. “My 21st birthday. I knew this day would only come once in my lifetime. Living with a chronic illness, I so often don’t have the opportunity to experience life the way my peers do. On this day, I wanted to drink and gamble and not worry about what was going on within my body. Before going out, I told my family, ‘Just for tonight, I’m going to pretend I’m not sick.’ But staying up until 2 a.m. and having a couple drinks does have its consequences for someone like me. What this photo doesn’t show is how exhausted I was the next day, barely able to hold myself upright and taking a two-and-a-half-hour nap before dinner. It took me several days to recover from this celebration. But in my opinion, the joy I felt was well worth it.” — Leah O.

woman standing in front of giant "21" balloons

7. “I was on a trip with my mom to the mountains. While I look super happy and like I’m having a great time, I started out that day with a killer migraine. A migraine caused from tight back/neck muscles, which is part of my autoimmune disease. I didn’t say that when I put this pic on Facebook.” — Christina F.

woman standing in front of scenic mountains

8. “My favorite place on Earth (so far). The Great Smoky Mountains for my dad’s birthday! But I was in pain the first three days of the trip!” — Destini H.

girl posing with bear statue

9. “My husband and I on a sunset sail off the coast of Ogunquit, Maine two weeks ago. I have Sjogren’s syndrome with multiple organ involvement and other chronic illnesses. The last year has been particularly bad for me in regards to my health and this was our three-day escape from it all. What the photo doesn’t show is that I had just started a new medication that was making me feel out of it, I was battling multiple GI issues (including diarrhea), extreme fatigue, stomach pain and significant joint and muscle pain. I also struggle with sitting due to neurological and muscle issues with my tailbone. Despite all this, I enjoyed our sail.” — Christine M.

woman and man on sailboat

10. “I took my kids to the park… people didn’t see me in pain walking, or the after-exhaustion… they just saw this photo of us having an exhilarating time!” — Hannah W.

woman with two smiling young kids at park

11. “Family vacation — Cancun 2017. This was the one-year anniversary of my twins passing. What doesn’t show is that internally I was falling apart and desperate to make happy memories on a day which was filled with so much pain the year prior. My family wanted to celebrate the short life our twins passed. What doesn’t show is that six months prior I had a pituitary tumor removed... That despite my being here my IGF-1 and HGH levels were rising again — which meant residual tumor was either regrowing or the remaining cells were being aggressive. What doesn’t show is the immense widespread bodily tendinitis pain I was feeling — my husband and I chose to do the underground river first because he knew the salt water and buoyancy of the water would remove some of the pain in my bones and muscles.” — Karla R.

mom and three young boys in water filled cave

12. “Me and husband enjoying a stroll on a recent holiday. What you can’t see is my invisible illness. My interstitial lung disease, my joint pain, the medication in my bag, the walking stick. You can’t see that my lung disease meant that I had a to sit down every five-to-10 minutes on the benches all along the beach that day. Despite all this, it was a lovely day spent with my husband and I am so lucky he is so helpful, supportive and caring.” — Janey G.

man and woman on beach

13. “I was on a trip to Morocco with my friends and we were on our way to have dinner and then go to a party… I have Crohn’s disease and I was feeling so dizzy that I couldn’t even stand the smell of food or anything, I was also feeling so exhausted and my stomach was on fire the whole time and I was barely standing or walking and unfortunately I ran out of all the medications that I took with me. Sometimes you can’t get rid of the pain and the feeling of uneasiness but you learn how to stand it and deal with it because you have no other choice but wait for a miracle to happen.” — Ryhab M.

woman sitting taking selfie

14. “All ready to go to an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game with my Hubby and his parents. Hiding behind my smile is an eight out of 10 on the pain scale that day. I was too ashamed to cancel.” — Julie H.

woman's selfie wearing baseball jersey

15. “It’s climbing for me. I was a climber before I was diagnosed with MS, but it’s a whole new challenging world with this disease. The pictures don’t show the days and weeks I have to rest to save up energy to get out one day — how many people, events, or appointments I’ve had to cancel or put on the back burner if I want to have one climbing day that month. Not to mention the recovery time. Training isn’t even an option for me. Nor does it show the symptoms and pain I deal with just to do it when I’m out there, or how much it holds me back from the kind of climber and athlete I could have been without my diseases and illnesses.” — Meg K.

woman climbing up snowy mountain

16. “Camping and exploring a state park with hubby. My GI issues did not behave for this trip so you don’t see the exhaustion from the lack of sleep from night interruptions and having to keep seeing how I feel before going to the next spot. Scenery was beautiful though and I’m learning to travel better with confidence now that I have all my accommodations.” — Naomi V.

woman standing next to statue of outdoorsman

17. “After about four days in severe pain my best friend Michael thought it would be good for me to get out of the house. We are standing outside of an antique store posing with a giant dinosaur! I’m was in a lot of pain at the time but I pushed through it and tried to enjoy myself. I really didn’t want to go anywhere but I ended up having a great time.” — Marciella M.

man and woman standing outside store with inflatable dinosaur

18.Went out with some friends for dinner and ice cream as a ‘good-bye party’ because I was leaving for a youth mental health conference in Toronto for the weekend (I live in Vancouver). What’s not pictured is the intense anxiety I had due to being in public and the fear I had that I would end up in the hospital in Toronto because of my mental illness. I had never travelled by myself before and to anyone that would be really scary but to me, a person with panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, it was terrifying and almost incapacitating. This was also before my endometriosis diagnosis, so I was battling pelvic pain most of the time thinking it was normal.” — Mikaela B.

woman standing next to cow statue

19.This is me and my girlfriend at Pride! It doesn’t show that my knees ache like they’re about to give in and my hips have shooting pains and my head is pounding in the sun. It was still an amazing day though.” — Lauren T.

two woman posing with pride flag

20. “I’m the one on the floor. You couldn’t tell that every bit of my body is killing, that I’m sweating like mad and that the short walk to the park for ice cream with my little sisters was agony. I didn’t want to spoil the day or let them know. I’m sat on the floor because I couldn’t even stand to eat my ice cream. My sisters then sat with me. Despite the pain I had a wonderful day.” — Emily V.

family sitting on grass with ice cream

21.I love going to Disneyland. But I endure rude comments in my scooter. ‘Oh, the princess won’t walk with the rest of us.’ ‘I wish I could just drive around all day like that.’ Sometimes I’ll snap back but mostly I’m too tired to say anything. I take naps at First Aid.” — Melinda M.

woman posing with Stitch at disneyland

22. “Getting the puppies onto the stand-up paddleboard. Except standing is hard for me, so that’s the real reason I’m sitting. Not because the little ones can’t do it.” – Kathryn C.

woman sitting with baby and dog on stand up paddleboard

Originally published: September 4, 2018
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