The Mighty Logo

For Anyone Dealing With the 'Unpretty' Symptoms of Chronic Illness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I have thrown up in too many public spaces to believe the adage about people paying you no attention when you do so.

They are looking, and I am pretending that they aren’t, and as long as we dance in this facade for a few moments, I’ll have time to scamper away to safety. This used to be a much bigger deal to me before my symptoms worsened; I have the drill of going through what many would believe to be the worst thing to happen to a person in public so many times in the local Olive Garden bathroom that I can now go through the motions without batting an eyelash.

GI symptoms are so often a taboo, even within chronic illness communities, that for a very long time I struggled to create a pain scale for what ought to be expected and what ought to constitute an ER visit. Without further adieu, I must now swing this topic of pleasant conversation towards something far more sinister.

My butt.

Yes, dearest reader, we’re doing this. We’re making this happen.

I have had undiagnosed and ill-managed IBS symptoms for most of my life. This is not a shock at all to anyone who has ever known me, but I have a feeling that many of my friends and family do not know the extent to which these symptoms have gone.

First, there was the Horrible Week.

The Horrible Week took place in the smack middle of prom season, then became The Horrible Month leading up to graduation. I hardly ate, barely drank and spent 90% of my time crying on the toilet. I had horrible hemorrhoids and was losing blood with every visit. There was absolutely nothing the ER could do about it, and even if they could, the idea of an adult stranger taking a peek made me sob even harder. I felt humiliated and embarrassed, hiding what was happening from my friends for days after I returned to my life. During this period, I lost weight. My prom dress hung from me like a limp sail.

All of this came to a head (or tail, rather) when I was finally able to see a specialist. The half-month span of investigating included a litany of blood work, several tests, sending her “evidence” of the issue from my phone and logging every item that I ate or drank. I had an ileoscopy to ensure there weren’t any problems with my colon, and was the youngest patient in the clinic by 45 years. Nothing was found, and the tests came back normally, and we resolved to will it away. I spent most of this period hoping it was all some bad dream that I would be able to wake up from and pan comedy from like gold from a river, but I never did either. I have never told anyone the full extent of what went down in those weeks where I did not eat.

But why? Why was I so ashamed of the manifested symptoms of an illness that I had no control over? Sure, butts are funny, but are they really such a secret topic that I had to feel uncomfortable calling for my mom to help me out of bed by day four?

I’m not proposing that I should have ignored this mindset at the time. Had anyone suggested to me that I still was just as beautiful crying my eyes out on a bathroom floor as I had been earlier that day, I would have kindly told them where to shove it. There is no beauty in illness, but there is an undeniable humanity. I wish that I had reached out for help in this time, rather than isolate myself from everyone to save face, as the lack of reassurance was worse than any crude remarks I could have experienced.

So to all of those who feel “unpretty” too, I say this: I am sorry. To love yourself and your body during this may seem like a radical act, but it truly isn’t. You are human and you are not less than for having a “gross” symptom. Feeling terrible does not devalue you in the slightest, and it is with this mentality that I move forward.

Getty image via dusanpetkovic

Originally published: April 20, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home