Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Invisible Illness: Live it in silence? or speak up for awareness?
There's a reason they call it "invisible illness". To most everyone around us, we aren't any different than they are. We look the same. We don't look sick. They don't understand how we can beg off of doing something, because we don't feel well, especially when, more often than not, we'd done the same thing just a few days earlier. We've gotten so well at appearing "normal" and well when we're around others, that we can be sicker than they've ever experienced, and still look like its just another day at the office, or another night out with friends.
If I called off work EVERY time I was sick or felt like crap, I wouldn't have a job. I'd probably only make four or five days a month. The only times I call off work, are during serious flare ups with my ridiculously high temps and the feeling of being hit by a mac truck. Even then, half of that flare up can find me sitting at my desk at work, not willing to give up those sick days, when I know that it CAN get worse. If its between sitting in bed at home or sitting in my chair at work, I'll be at work. I may look less than healthy and popping tylenol every four hours, and move a ton slower, but I'm there. In fact, if I have another flare up, no matter what happens, I'll probably still be here. Because my last serious flare up back in January, I used four of my six sick days, and I had to use the other two on trips to the Cleveland clinic.
Added "bonus" to our lovely "friends", not only can we burn through those sick days like none other, we also have the added expense of most often having a guarantee that we'll actually hit that seemingly reasonable insurance deductible in the first six months. Then there's the copays and other expenses that go along with it all. ER visit copays, dr visit copays (during a serious flare up, can be as often as three or four times a month, sometimes per dr...) with the occasional specialist thrown in for good measure, prescription copays, lab work fees, travel fees, this list could go on forever really... In fact, I hit my $750 insurance deductible by February 4th this year. Add to that the $100 ER visit copay and countless other dr and rx copays, and you can understand why I'm still making payments on my healthcare costs from over six months ago.
So: no more sick days, equals little chance I'll actually be calling off. Because we have no more paid time off, and with all the other added, and often unplanned/unexpected expenses mean we can little afford to take a day off (or several) without pay. All that to say, we're so used to being sick, that we're experts at hiding the fact that we are. Because if people around us knew what we were going through (not only wouldn't they believe it half the time) they'd get as sick of it's frequency and limitations as we do. So we grin and bear it. Or rather, we pretend nothing else is wrong and go on with our lives. We all do it to some extent. We may like to believe we're being open and sincere with those around us about how things are going and how we're feeling, but really, even we get tired of it.
I know I get tired of explaining myself and my disease. Not at the fact that someone cares enough to ask and wants to understand, but at the fact that I can actually sense myself going into "information mode". I've explained what I have, what I know about it , and how it affects me so many times, that I know I'm reciting a speech I've told countless times before, and it bores ME. I can only imagine how the person listening to me is feeling. You start to wonder if they'll regret asking, but hey...they did ask right? Eventually you just assume everyone is as bored at hearing about your "problems" as you are the whole experience. But is that really our best option?
I don't think there's an easy or clear answer to that question. Sadly, we're still in a world where employers, despite EOE laws and restrictions, are combing the net and looking for reasons you may or may not be a great fit. And even if you had to choose between two qualified people, we're still likely to be passed over because the other guy/gal will likely not be taking full advantage of the benefits package. Even in our personal life, we're tempted to stay silent, because we're afraid our friends (as well as those coworkers) will treat us differently. I absolutely HATE pity. Can't help it, but it grates on my nerves to see that look dawn on someones face when you know they're connecting with what it all means (or rather the worst case scenario playing out in their head) and they tell you how sorry they are. I think we all are super sensitive to it, but really, if you learn that a friend/relative/whomever got sick, etc don't you feel bad for them too? I have to remind myself that most peoples reactions are not pity. There's sympathy and the occasional empathy, and we can't take it too personally when a persons natural inclination is to apologize. I mean really, its not like they gave it to me...sorry, one of my pet peeves... :)
On the other hand, and this is the important part, if we stay silent about what we have and how it affects us, we're cheating ourselves as well as those around us. For starters, as much as we'd like to insist that what we have plays no part of who we are, we're not being completely honest with anyone. It may not be an important part of who we are, but everything that we experience plays a part in molding us into the person we become. It's just life. Our past and the happenings of our current circumstances all shape our personality and the way we act, react, and interact. We can't change that. It's going to happen. And if we aren't sharing the parts of us that make us who we are, no matter how insignificant we believe they are, or how little we wish to acknowledge them, are people really getting to know us? Do they really know who I am?
They certainly can't understand why I choose not to push myself physically, when it seems to all around me like I could do it if I really tried. They can't understand why I could possibly need to see a dr and visit a pharmacist so many stinking times a month, or how/why the top of my dresser or the bathroom counter looks like a shelf at your local walgreens. They won't understand why I can practically quote medical information, symptoms, drug facts, doses, interactions, what they're used for etc. Seriously, I'm a walking encyclopedia...be impressed. :) My sarcasm becomes more distinct and comes into play more often when dealing with uncomfortable topics or to joke around with my friends/coworkers or whoever when discussing the "facts". Its how I cope. Its a part of my personality. And if we're talking about how I'm doing and how I feel, and you can almost feel the sarcasm seeping into the conversation, don't feel bad you asked, don't feel like you have to stop asking. You should actually feel flattered that you're not getting the canned/recorded version of my explanation, and if you feel like you're getting it, don't be offended, I probably just feel like crap and am operating on autopilot.
I'll leave you with one last reason we need to share. A majority (probably most, but I'm gonna be careful here) of autoimmune diseases are unpredictable, play out differently in different people, and are occasionally rare. Not even Dr's and scientist have figured them out completely. There's still a world of unknown and if we keep things to ourselves, we're only hurting ourselves. We need to be open about things so that progress can be made. We need to be honest and share because while we may feel we're a walking encyclopedia, there are people out there searching for information, and we're the best informants out there. (And quite frankly, its healthier to let out our frustrations and feelings and sharing with those around us. Stress just makes things worse, and life has enough stress.)
I started this blog, because I was searching for a way to vent and let out what I was feeling about the mess that my disease was making of my life. I was holding it all in, and it was driving me crazy. I didn't think anyone wanted to hear it. I didn't want to push people away because I was complaining about my problems. So I created a place where I could unload and work through what I'm going through and what I'm feeling. But then it morphed into something else entirely. Don't get me wrong, if you follow my blog, you know I still do all that, but it's become about something more as well. I'm hoping that the time I've spent poring through information, and the things I'm experiencing, will help someone else going through the same things I am. Because we can't do this alone. We need to know we aren't alone, that someone out there knows and understands. And we need to be that source of information for them as well. If someone else can benefit from our hours of reading and sifting through library titles why shouldn't we share it? Believe me, I've loved finding that in others here as well. Its an invaluable tool.
So please. Don't be silent. Be aware and spread awareness so that you can benefit from someone else and be a help to others. Lets make research and progress in treating/curing autoimmune disease something that is as important to science as it is for us, and lets work at making it a thing of the past.