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Why the Invisible Scars of My Chronic Illness Battle Matter

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My body is marked from head to toe with physical evidence of my various medical battles. First and foremost, there is proof of the gift of life bestowed upon me by my mother nine years ago, an approximately 3-inch-long scar that runs along my lower abdomen. Then there are smaller scars on my neck and upper chest, where various tubes have been inserted, connecting my body to machines for life-saving dialysis and plasmapheresis treatments. My arms host a few more, even smaller, nicks accumulated from bad needle pokes, the dreaded arterial blood gas (ABG) draws, and even one or two resulting from an encephalitis fit where I yanked out my own IV. Just below the surface, the veins in my arms are so scarred, that these days my blood draws often must be extracted from other, more sensitive areas such as my hands or even feet. And, more often than not, bruises and small scrapes of unknown origin can be found along my legs and arms, a result of chronic anemia and post-encephalitis balance stability challenges.

These markings are representative of paint on a canvas, illustrating my personal history. And like the laugh lines that have begun to appear on my face, I wear them like a badge of honor.

I have earned every single one of my scars.

They are each important reminders of the wounds that have shaped me, commemorating where I have been and how far I’ve come. Over time, they have become a familiar part of me, like the knots and markings of an old tree. A tree that has weathered the storm and remains standing, with branches reaching to the sky, daring to be struck down by the fate of nature’s wrath.

But if I’ve learned one thing from my days in the battlefield, it’s that pain doesn’t always leave a visible mark. Sometimes the most significant scars are the ones you can’t see at all. Carved from wounds not visible to the naked eye, these scars are made all the more painful in their ability to cut deep and infiltrate even the most resilient lines of defense. Undetected, and therefore exposed, these wounds are perpetually vulnerable.

My unseen scars are the markings of an internal battle; they are varied and range in depth and size. These dents in my internal body armor are a product of the cruel mockery the fates have made of my life. Most often they stay out of sight, but occasionally they manifest through unbidden emotions.

Like the hesitation to share extensive details of my personal history for fear of judgment or vulnerability…

Or the internal turmoil that accompanies making plans for a consistently uncertain future…

Through the inevitable paranoia that a cough, a headache, or even a bad day might be a precursor to something more serious…

And the haunting anxiety of constantly waiting for the so-called-other-shoe to drop.

These scars persist in influencing everyday situations and continue to haunt me throughout the night, when I wake up shaking and powerless, having dreamt, once again, of losing hours, days and months to an unknown entity.

These invisible scars have also become a part of me. Similar to the old tree that is uniquely marred with its own battle wounds, you may come to find pieces of my story in the external markings that appear across the surface of my body. However, the true victories and ultimate story of my survival is evidenced only by the markings within.

My scars, both seen and unseen, are a part of me that says I have survived.

I am bent, but not broken, challenged, but not defeated.

And in telling my story, each and every one of my scars is beautiful in its own right.

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Originally published: October 18, 2016
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