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How the Pandemic Has Made My Invisible Illnesses Visible

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Pre-pandemic, I likely had you fooled.

From a glance, I look like your typical 20-something. I’ve spent my time living with chronic conditions crafting my skills to ensure no one would ever know my reality.

You saw my tired eyes, but you also knew I worked multiple jobs. What you didn’t know was that I worked compulsively, because when you’re struggling with multiple chronic conditions, you can never have enough saved. An expensive ICU stay or emergency procedure is always lurking around the corner.

You saw me occasionally stumble, but we laughed it off as clumsiness. You didn’t know my levels were out of range and that my body was beginning to fail. You didn’t know the excruciating pain I felt, because I held my smile firmly to my face.

You smiled as I washed my hands for the hundredth time and joked about me being a germ freak. You didn’t know my immune system does not function properly, and that the smallest germ could do the biggest damage.

You likely saw my scars, but everyone has had their battles. What you wrote off as marks from childhood accidents were reminders of places on my body where needles, wires and tubes have been.

You listened as I stuttered through a sentence during a meeting, but you assumed I was simply nervous. You didn’t know about the seizure I had an hour before that my brain was still recovering and adjusting from.

You drove by my workplace hours after I should have been home, and noticed my car still in the parking lot. You assumed I was staying late to get ahead on my work, which I often did. What you didn’t know was that my body was once again shutting down, and I had to call my husband to drive me home.

You saw me strive to become a perfectionist at my job. You watched how I would crumble whenever I made a tiny mistake, but you knew I was a natural worrier. You didn’t know how terrified I was of losing my health insurance and benefits.

You caught me once or twice with bloodshot eyes. My excuses of “I’m just tired,” or “It must be allergies,” were enough to keep you satisfied. You didn’t know about the lab work I just had done that showed the progression of my conditions. You didn’t know that at 28 years old, I was making end-of-life arrangements.

But now you don’t see me at all, which has made my conditions all the more visible.

Due to the recent events in the world, I have had to take medical leave and work from the safety of my own home. I went from volunteering to do everything to disappearing. I have had to openly admit to people who thought I was healthy, that my body cannot survive this virus.

Living through a pandemic has forced me to come face to face with my limitations. It has caused me to accept the fact that my body cannot do everything I led those around me to believe that it could. I’ve had to tear down the illusion I tried so hard to create, to let those around me see the parts of me I desperately tried to keep hidden.

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Originally published: October 5, 2020
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