Anyone can tell you that being sick is stressful. But what if you were sick off and on all the time and didn’t know why? You’d have a good day one day, and just about start to feel normal, and then go right back to being as sick as a dog by the end of the week. You might get sympathy from people for the first little while, but then as the situation continues into months and beyond, you get less and less sympathy and more and more, “Just get over it already! You don’t *look* sick!” Your boss might start to question your frequent doctor visits. Your doctor labels you a hypochondriac. You worry that people feel you aren’t pulling your weight.
This was my story. I started with allergy to band-aid adhesive and spermicide. No problem. Those are easy to avoid. Then sinus problems, progressing into monthly, week-long illnesses. No problem. You are allergic to dust and must have seasonal allergies, too, even though you tested negative for those. Here’s a neti pot and some steroid nasal spray. Make sure you vacuum regularly, get rid of carpets, and put dust mite covers on your pillows and mattress. You have a rash. No problem, here’s some moisturizer and some ointment. You’re lactose intolerant? Here, have some Lactaid. Egg intolerance now, too? Don’t eat them. The list continued, and the anxiety increased.
No one ever pushed to get to the root of the problem. As my symptoms continued to build, I was given a quick explanation and fix for each one. New, less visible symptoms developed, and my doctor’s office started to offer appointments further and further out. “Wrist so sore you can’t lift anything with that hand?” “Lump the size of a marble on the side of your nose?” “Face swelled up so much your nose moved out of the way? Come in next Thursday.” “You must be making it up. You look fine now.” And my favourite, “Are you depressed?” As if feeling depressed about what’s happening to your body means that depression is the only possible cause of your problems, and no further investigation is needed.
No one realizes just how much these things can impact your life until they happen to you. The stress of trying to do everything expected of you while anxious and uncertain about whether you’re horribly sick. The fear of letting people down. The sadness of having to say no to an invitation because you’re sick or afraid you’ll get sick. The grief of losing touch with people. The strain of asking more of your spouse than you planned. The conflict of taking time to try to find a solution to “fix” yourself while at the same time trying to hold down a full-time job. The awkwardness of walking around looking like you’ve been using a new poison ivy face cream. These things are real. Them being in your head doesn’t mean they’re not valid. They are not your imagination, and you do deserve help.
For all of you still struggling for answers right now, don’t give up. Don’t discount your feelings. If your doctor won’t help you, find one who will. If you can’t find a new doctor, tell receptionists your story and do everything you can to convince them you need help from *their* doctor. I did, and I live in a town where the wait list for a new doctor can span years. Be your own advocate no matter how long it takes. Look for your own answers. Seek out people who are going through the same things and support each other. Allow yourself to grieve, and take the time you need to look after yourself properly. If you’re here, you’re already taking steps to find answers, and you can do it. You will succeed.