It’s Time to Redefine What 'Sick' Looks Like

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Female face with closed eyes and hand under your face. Mix of painting and live photo

“But you don’t look sick.”

Boy, if we had a nickel for every time we heard this, we would be wealthy! This is why they call fibromyalgia an invisible illness, because looking from the outside only, you can’t always tell. Our smile hides our pain so often.

What does sick look like? Well, we are used to sick people looking sick… pale, thin, lethargic. We look like that a lot of time, too, but you’ll probably never see it. A little makeup, a lot of grit and determination, and we look pretty good on the outside. We tend to push ourselves and most of the time people only see us when we’re feeling pretty good, otherwise we are hiding at home.

It’s like a woman who is pregnant. She may not look pregnant, but there are changes going on in her body and she senses them and finds them hard to describe at times. She is frequently tired and nauseaous, smells really bother her and her moods can be all over the place. Most of our symptoms are also hidden and not apparent to the people around us. We experience varying degrees of pain, mood shifts, indescribable fatigue, and unrefreshed sleep, just to mention a few.

I have to psych myself up when I go out. I put on some makeup, fix my hair, and basically just suck it up. Most of the time unless you really knew me, you might think I was tired, but I would not look sick to you. That’s the magic of our public persona. We put a lot of effort to appear “normal” when we are out and about or on the job.

Because we didn’t understand that struggle ourselves until our own illnesses hit, we know that unless others are touched by a chronic illness, they can’t fully understand that while we look fine on the outside, on the inside we are falling apart at the seams, and it really makes us feel isolated.

Fibromyalgia is known as an “invisible disease.” You can’t see brain fog, digestive issues, muscle weakness, sensitivity to light, noise, and odors. But they are part of our new normal and while we may not look sick, we absolutely know that we are.

It’s time to redefine what sick looks like.

In spite of my illness,

Robin

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