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What It's Like Trying to Act Healthy When You're Not

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Living with the illnesses I live with provides enough struggle to get through the days. Most days it feels like climbing Mount Everest to just pull myself out of bed. Never mind the added energy, motivation and determination it takes to hide my illnesses, or symptoms I am experiencing. You see, living with mental illness is hard enough. When you add in the factor that you have chronic medical problems, it makes appearing “normal” seem impossible, especially when you are living with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS).

I used to be a very active, energetic, full of life girl until these life-sucking symptoms started appearing as an adolescent. I used to dance hours on end for a studio, I used to run, go on hikes, ride my bike and go on long walks. Now? Many days I can’t go from sitting to standing without the walls feeling like they are closing in on me. First comes the seeing stars, followed by tunnel vision, which is often followed by blacking out/fainting if I do not quickly sit. Sometimes sitting does not even prevent from the inevitable from happening. How do you pretend like everything is ok when your heart is beating out of your chest and everything you look at feels like you are looking out of a pair of glasses that show the world through a fun house mirror? How do you focus on the fun going on around you when you’re full of fear of POTS taking over?

When you look at me, I appear to just be a normal 23-year-old. I don’t “look sick.” I am not losing hair from cancer, I don’t use an oxygen tank, and I don’t have a physically evident disability. Many medical professionals have not even heard of POTS! Sure, I may look “too thin” from my other illnesses, but sadly many see this as a strength, not a weakness.

So what do I do? I smile, I pretend like everything is great and life is great. I pretend I know what everyone is talking about, when in reality I can barely see straight a lot of the time. I pretend I have a normal life. When people ask me “What do you do for work or school?” I respond with my wishes for my life, that I am “working on” becoming a pediatric nurse, when in reality I don’t have one year of college under my belt due to my illnesses. But hey, it sounds good right? And it’s not a lie, I do want to become a pediatric RN. When I am sitting at a concert instead of standing and dancing and singing along and I’m asked why, I respond with, “Oh, I am just tired,” when in reality I don’t want to cause an embarrassing event of the paramedics showing up. Or another famous question: “Why don’t you dance as much as you used to? You are beautiful at it!” I usually respond with “I am focusing on other passions such as nursing and singing,” which isn’t fully true because most of my weeks are spent at appointments.

It is a full-time job trying to act healthy when you’re not. Your world can become narrower, with less people, less events you can attend, but more depression and emptiness.

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

Originally published: January 3, 2017
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