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When I Constantly Hear That I ‘Don’t Look Sick’

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I have chronic fatigue syndrome (CF), which is also called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), endometriosis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

On top of these three “invisible illnesses,” I also have two mental illnesses: clinical depression and a severe anxiety disorder, which was brought on by a traumatic experience.

As a result, I constantly hear the words: “But you don’t look sick.”

Sometimes, I’m sure it’s meant as an accusation. In case you think I’m being paranoid, it’s actually true. If you’ve read my post, “Some Girls Are,” you’re aware of the fact that I actually had some supposedly “close” friends abandon me soon after I fell ill. For some people, I guess, it’s only OK to be ill for so long, otherwise you’re labelled as a “drama queen.”

“But you don’t look sick.”

Sometimes those that utter this phrase truly believe it’s a compliment. They’re my friends and my family members, and I guess they want me to feel normal and reassure me that I look normal. They want to make me feel like I’m OK, which is kind and sweet.

And while it’s nice in many ways, it also implies you need to look a certain way to be sick, which brings me to the third group of people who utter this statement: Those that are generally perplexed to hear I’m ill because I simply don’t look it.

young woman in a white sweater and flower shirt poses for a photo

I don’t know what you see when you look at the photo above. What I do know is that this photo was taken after I deliberately hurt myself because I was in so much pain.

This is what it looks like to suffer from depression. It’s not always constant, can’t get out of bed, overwhelming sadness. Sometimes depression comes with smiles, makeup and pretty dresses that help to mask the truth.

young woman in a formal blue dress

The photo above is what someone with a severe anxiety disorder looks like. I panicked about attending my best friend’s wedding. I panicked about how I looked, if I was overweight, what people would think, how I would survive the day, if I would let my best friend down — everything and anything. But no one sees that inner turmoil. They only see the smiles that cover it.

young woman holding up her dress

This is the face of someone who needs multiple breaks, who needs to carefully plan each day, who counts spoons she doesn’t always have and who sometimes falls asleep in random places.

This is what someone who is chronically ill looks like. The picture above is me on a good day — the days I’m able to get out of bed and the pain isn’t overwhelming.

I might not look sick, but you don’t see the bad days.

You don’t see the days I’m so tired I literally need help moving.

You don’t see the pain that takes over my body. You don’t see the depressive episodes and the anxiety attacks.

And that’s OK.

I don’t want you to see it.

But it also doesn’t mean I’m not sick, and we need to stop assuming that appearances mean everything.

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

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Originally published: November 23, 2016
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