Pretty/Sick: how chronic and mental illness affect our body image and complicate beauty

Health is not binary. People who are chronically and/or mentally ill may indeed be "sick" (a term with a huge amount of complexity in its own right), but we are not on any given day A) sick or B) not sick. These conditions can be lifelong or last many years, going through flares and remissions. But we are not just "sick", we are people with hobbies, partners, friends, and if possible, jobs. Our illness(es) may feel all encompassing at times, but they are not us. They are only a part of us - people who are just as complex and nuanced as any. And yet, it seems at times that there are absurd standards, perceptions, and expectations about what someone who is "sick" looks like. This only exacerbates our already complicated relationships with our bodies.

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I've been some level of sick most of my life. I don't really remember a time when I felt well for more than a fleeting day here or there, and it's only gotten worse over time. Most people who know me are aware of this at some level - I stopped trying to hide it many years ago. And yet, I seem to constantly have experiences where how I appear affects how people perceive not just me, but also the existence and severity of my illness. These mixed up misperceptions serve to complicate my social interactions, the tentative sense of self I've cultivated, and the relationship I have with my body.

If I dress nicely at home, or *gasp* dare to leave the house looking put together, well then I must be recovering and feeling better! Musn't I? If I don't dress up, I've let myself go and am "giving up". Surely. Should I dress more slovenly to match how unwell I feel? Should my pants match my level of pain? So many thoughts fly through my head when someone says, "You look so good!" with a surprised and reassuring tone. Am I supposed to smile and nod? Should I correct them and say, "Thanks, but it's not a reflection of how I'm feeling. Actually I feel like total shit." Awkward...compliments are tricky, and contradicting them is not socially acceptable.

This flows over into the practicalities of daily life. Someone cuts in front of me in line, not realizing how much effort it takes to stand with nothing to lean on when I have vertigo or am fatigued. I'm stuck in extreme heat or cold for an extended period of time, people think I'm being overdramatic or whining, when I feel faint or my extremities become severely painful. How am I to set boundaries and assert myself when there's no "evidence" of what is going on inside me, leading some people not to believe I should have any "special accommodation"? Should I abruptly leave in the middle of an errand? Should I not attempt excurions or travel? Should I not go grocery shopping on my own? Can I ask for a seat on transit? Can I do it without being given a strange look, or getting questioned or judged? Would you treat me the same if I was in a wheelchair or carried a cane? Do my pretty shoes make me a fraud? Can I wear a cute dress when I'm feeling a mess? Without it calling everything into question?

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Those who work in the healthcare system are not immune to this either, and it can be utterly confusing trying to predict how a given health professional (doctor, nurse, etc.) will interpret my appearance. If I'm fatigued (which is pretty much always) and choose to show up to an appointment in sweats, they seem to condescend more and slip in questions or about depression and try and push meds on me - nope, sorry doc, anxiety is more my bag and I'll stick with meditating thanks! If I dress to impress, they often act more professional with me, but take the severity if my illness less seriously. It's an unpredictable and difficult dance to strategize around. It doesn't help as a younger person, having some conditions usually relegated to older people. The attitude that a person is too young and spritely, or too put together to possibly have such problems invalidates the reality of their pain, sickness, or lessened quality of life. Keeping a positive attitude and having a friendly demeanour only adds to this counterproductive stigma, but am I supposed to act like a curmudgeon and make myself and everyone else more miserable?

The combination of misguided assumptions/perceptions, and people (health professionals, friends, family, employers, etc.) not taking statements about how a person is feeling at face value, are a terrible combination. Why not just start with the belief that a person is being honest about how they are doing, regardless of how they look? If you're going to make an assumption, why not assume that anything is possible, or that things haven't changed significantly since you last knew how they were doing? Anything else forces the person with the illness to negotiate, explain, and prove (which is sometimes impossible) that they are legitimately unwell. This only adds to the shame and frustration that comes along with the illness itself, already a large enough and complex enough challenge to wrangle. It also makes people who are sick afraid to say when they're having a good day or a good week. The response, "Oh, I'm glad you're feeling better!" or the assumption that this trend is permanent is just another difficult to navigate interaction, laden with shame and often significant emotional pain in wishing it were true. It's easier to hide the good days and avoid the confusion.

Even worse might be when someone tells me they're jealous of how thin I am. In spring of 2010, after one of my worst flare ups, my weight fell to 85 lbs - I don't think I've publicly written the actual number online before. It was scary as hell, and an intense reminder of how damaging to a person's health being underweight can be. It puts you at risk for all kinds of severe side effects, even heart attacks. Extremely thin people are already teased and judged - weight extremes are weight extremes, and people tend to make all kinds of snap judgments no matter which end of the spectrum you may be at. But when I am repeatedly told, "I wish I had that problem", when I talk about struggling to gain weight, it is just another dismissal of the severity of my illness. No, no you don't wish for this. I was weak, sick, and scared, and that is nothing to aspire to. Not to mention how hard it is recovering from that kind of physical degredation. It's over 4 years later, and it's been an ongoing struggle to try and gain and maintain weight and strength.

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Many people, women in particular, struggle with their body image - being comfortable and happy with how they look. But body image is rarely, if ever, discussed in the context of how a body functions. If I look okay does that mean I should feel okay? That I should function like a "normal" person? If I don't, what does that say about me? Shouldn't I just be able to tough it out? Push a little harder? Keep up? It doesn't look like there's anything wrong with me, maybe I'm making it all up or at least exaggerating.

It's hard not to end up angry at my body when there's no visible reason for its dysfunction. The types of chronic illnesses I have are all categorized as "invisible illness" - in constrast to more visible illnesses or disabilities where it's obvious to a stranger that there is something going on. I may limp a little or curl my body up when I'm in pain, but otherwise now that I've gained a bit of weight back, you wouldn't know looking at me that there was anything wrong. It's been a huge accomplishment for me to even stop thinking of my body as the enemy and separate from "me" (ie. my mind), thinking it's getting in my way, and ruining my life. This division of body and mind is a coping mechanism that only serves to keep up the facade that everything is fine, except for this pesky container I'm stuck in.

It's incredibly hard not to try and just push yourself to behave in ways that are more in line with how you look on the outside. It's an active effort every single day to be honest, not only with people don't "get it" (which may even be people who you're close to) but also, more importantly with yourself. (I talk about this in a lot more detail in Issue 2 of Collide zine, a compilation zine on the intersection of physical and mental health.) So many of the people I know dealing with chronic and/or mental illness are the biggest perfectionists, and the most driven people I know. Accomplished, incredibly smart, and struggling with deep denial about how unwell they truly are, which only serves to further push the limits of their capabilities rather than slow down and take care of themselves. I am a perfect example of this. Nobody ever suggested I slow down or stop to deal with how sick I was - to this day I wonder if it's because they didn't really believe that I was that sick. It was only once I crashed hard in 2012 and admitted to myself that I couldn't keep faking being "well enough" that I began to declare and protect my need for time to rest and heal.

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Yet despite being sick, we ought to have just as much right to enjoy fashion, present ourselves nicely, want to wear our favourite dress/lipstick/sweater as anyone else. Illness does not preclude this - it's not a "you can't have it both ways" situation. In fact, don't we deserve to cheer ourselves up with these tokens of personal style, to retain our sense of self through how we present to the world? Shouldn't we be able to do that without it adding more weight, judgment, and shame onto what we're dealing with? Can't we be our whole selves, publicly, even though we may struggle on a daily basis because these circumstances we cannot control?

I looked back through many of the self-portraits I've taken of myself over the past couple years, which have been part of an exercise in developing my sense of self as a whole integrated person. I thought to myself, "Am I not all of these versions of me at once?" I am not only "sick me" or only "well me" on any given day. In many of these images, I look well or happy, even though I can specifically remember it being a day where I wasn't feeling well. Even on the best days, I live from moment to moment, never knowing when things will go downhill. It's my reality, and that of so many others, and it doesn't seem like such an outlandish idea just to treat ourselves and each other gently, since we can never really know.

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As part of this post, I invited some friends to contribute their thoughts on these issues, and it was fascinating to hear what their experiences were...

One friend who has dealt with mental illness off and on (depression, anxiety, and PTSD), writes about how disconnected appearance can be from their level of wellbeing:

I dress my best when I'm feeling my worst. If I've ironed my outfit it means my inability to keep it together is at the uh-oh stage. Ironic isn't it? The better put together I look, the closer my mind probably is to unraveling, as if this compilation of fabric and buttons and belt is what's holding me together, an exoskeleton of sorts. My last defense against an imminent fall. Or maybe I just want to hang on to normal just. One. More. Day. 

I remember a week-long stint in a psychiatric ward for being deemed a danger to myself. It was one of the most emotionally harrowing weeks of my life, but I was dressed so impeccably people were constantly mistaking me for staff, asking for directions or extra towels. To add icing on the cake, or perhaps insult to injury, my (now ex) husband added my "Life is Good" t-shirt to the mix when he delivered a change of clothes. And I wore it. I've never worn it since. Funny, I still have some of the clothes from that week and dislike wearing any of them now.

Another friend, Kelly Day, shared how multiple chronic illnesses, including chronic pelvic pain, have impacted her self esteem around sexuality, and her femininity. She writes:

Body image. Ah, that's a tough topic, and a very blanket term for something so intricate. I've struggled with it all my life. Ironically, because my illness effects what I can eat, I actually probably look better physically than I used to because I've lost weight, and eating natural, whole foods has made my skin and hair quite nice! Also, because I've come through tremendous trauma and become more validated in myself, I overall have better confidence. However...

What I struggle most with is my sexuality. Having pelvic disease, pain, dysfunction and 'women's issues' makes a person feel out of sorts, and not as worthy as other women. Sometimes I worry that it will be too much for a guy to handle. Sometimes I feel overall 'icky' because I remember, and my body remembers, the trauma my female parts have been through. Its been a nightmare. I'm missing organs. I hold tension in places most people wouldn't think of holding tension. Dozens of doctors and other medical professionals have seen my most intimate parts, and often they have inflicted great pain. I feel insecure often, and less desirable then women who have normal sex lives and don't have pain, and don't have to. In my past relationships, I would even go through painful intercourse just to please my partner so I didn't feel guilty. Or make sure that I was 'satisfying' him in some way so I felt like he wouldn't feel like he was missing something. Truly, truly messed up, and it has taken its toll, something I'm healing from to this day. 

As for overall body image, its all connected...when someone tells me I'm beautiful when you feel like a mess, my first thought is "how sweet!" My second thought is "But I'm a mess. He must not mean it. Yuck." I also find I'm less prone to care about my looks, makeup doesn't happen anymore, and yoga pants are norm. I don't want to be a slob, but when you have more important things to worry about, looks just take a major back burner. I try to maintain a 'pretty au naturel look' but there is simply no extra time or energy for pampering...when I get bursts of energy I spend it doing something I enjoy, not trying to compete with beauty I likely can't attain anyway! 

Its a constant struggle, and very up and down, depending on my mood. But overall, I guess I just keep trucking, I try to not compare myself, and I try to remember that this happened to me for a reason...my scars are battle wounds, my memories shape me, and my strength and resilience are my biggest assets. 

We are all beautiful, and us sickies are beautiful at a depth that 'normal' healthy people can't always understand. And for that depth, if nothing else, I am thankful. Because external beauty fades, but the soul and spirit last a lifetime.

Finally, a friend who's an athlete and has struggled with depression, anxiety, and severe burnout writes about dealing with mental illness and body image, and the different ways they can manifest when you're very physically able:

I've never liked my body: it was too fat at 145lbs and at 127lbs. My stomach stuck out too much whether I was swimming four times a week or running 100km a week.

Along with my body, many days I also didn't like myself. Exercise, in particular, running, helped keep this at bay. After 10km...15km, in the mornings I would forget about my body and start remembering my strength. When I got anxious (which was quite a lot) or sad, very sad, running anchored my life and calmed my thoughts. 

Then I got fast and lost weight. The thing was, no race was ever quite good enough and no weight was ever low enough. I was still one of the bigger runners, but my running peers were the top women in road races. They had no idea... The hardest was when I was hurting but running so well - not sleeping and barely eating - and all my running friends just complimented me on my times.

Nothing felt good enough, so I was only as good as my last race, and I felt like people only liked me because I was fast. I put tons of pressure on myself, but no matter what, I just still felt fat and slow.

I constantly compared myself to others and was terrified of gaining weight. Running stopped helping my anxiety and sadness, and started contributing to the stress - I feared workouts I used to love, cancelled runs with friends. Instead of being excited to explore new routes in the mountains on weekends, I would stay in bed until the last minute, and cry as I packed my gear. But I couldn't just stop. 

Until finally, I did. I just couldn't get out of bed anymore, couldn't stop crying. Where I once ran for hours on end, I couldn't even muster energy to unload the dishwasher. I hated myself for not running, not wanting to run. It was the only way I knew to deal with the sadness - I felt myself sinking deeper and deeper.

Then I started running again - it was the only way I knew to get myself out of the depression. One month later, I had broken my foot - the body finally gave out.

It took me five months to get better. I gained weight and got my period for the first time in years. I went to counselling. I got pedicures. I travelled. I swam and did yoga. I treated myself so, so well because it was the only thing I could do. The depression didn't go away all at once, and it still circles back.

I'm running, now, and I get up before my alarm excited to see the sunrise from the mountains. I am just happy to have a body that's healthy and getting pain free. I don't know if I'll ever be as fast or as small as I was before, but I can finally be happy with myself, most days, and a lot more gentle.

Thanks everyone for trusting me with your stories and sharing them here.

Let's all strive to be kinder and gentler to ourselves, and leave our assumptions about other peoples' wellness and ability at the door, shall we? There is so much stigma and shame around not being a fully able-bodied high-functioning member of society, that I'm sure many more people you encounter have more going on below the surface than you know. And as for those you do know are struggling, remember they may regularly be hiding the severity of their illness to protect themselves and you from all the complex and awkward consequences that their honesty would bring.

If you have your own stories or comments about your experiences of beauty and body image in relation to chronic and/or mental illness, I would love for you to share them below. You are welcome to post anonymously (only I will see your email address) - just enter "Anonymous" or a pseudonym in the name field.

Comments

I've managed to write two comments to this post now that I've gotten frustrated and deleted but I'm telling myself that this time is the third time is a charm.

For me, it's an anxiety disorder that's the main culprit of my unwell, and I struggled for many many years to figure out what exactly made me tick and to get it under control. I'm doing pretty well these days, but it hasn't always been this way and I still do have bad days where I have to take a step back and do some radical self-care to restore equanimity.

When I'm at a point where my anxiety is really high, in addition to the emotional state I'm in, I tend to manifest a bunch of physical symptoms... Most commonly muscle tension, headaches, heart racing and shortness of breath.

What you said about denial really resonated with me. I have found it really difficult to admit both to myself and to others when I'm not feeling well because my anxiety has been triggered. I have a tendency to think that since it's "all in my head", the physical symptoms I experience aren't real and I should just suck it up and press on with what I'm doing.

If I get into a situation where my physical symptoms get so bad that I have to walk away and leave, I almost always tell people the symptom rather than the cause because I'm afraid that people will see me as being weak, lazy and unreliable.

Hey! Well, I'm glad the third time was the charm. ;)

I hear you - acute stress literally goes straight to my colon (not to mention my sweat glands and my blood pressure). The physical symptoms that come along with emotional/mental ones are no joke.

I was just talking to another friend about that - the denial. It seems to keep coming up again and again when I talk to other people who are coping with illness. And I can only conclude that the denial itself - telling ourselves we should not feel what we feel or act based on it - is only compounding the shame and symptoms themselves.

We've got to learn to be gentler with ourselves!

Fantastic article! I could really relate to it, as it's something I deal with on an ongoing basis. I used to get really angry when people would say "but you look great." Now I just let it slide, or I'll say something like "I'm glad to hear that I don't look like I feel (haha!)."

I also struggle with looking "not sick" in other ways. For example, I have a disability tag for my car so I can park in spots for people with disabilities, but I always feel a bit guilty about using them, because I'm not 80 years old with a walker. I've gotten many dirty looks when I've used the tag, and on occasion been told "that's a disabled parking space", to which I reply "I know, my tag is in the window." So just because I'm in my 30's and have no visible disability, I feel guilty for using a parking spot that is designated for me! Sometimes I feel it's not enough that I walk at a turtle pace away from my car, I am often temped to add a limp or maybe start carrying a cane. But then why am I trying to prove I am sick?

Which brings me to comment on what you said about people thinking I'm "better" when I have makeup on and I'm out for an evening (a rare occasion!). I don't want to have to constantly tell people I'm not well and complain, I don't think that's good for my state of mind. But if I don't, I find people start expecting more from me, since they seem to forget what I am struggling with (and that's if they even understood in the first place). My father is the worst, he thinks there is nothing wrong with me, and if I don't mention anything to him, he assumes I'm "cured." I used to find myself arguing with him constantly and trying to convince him there was something wrong with me (although, I do believe that I am me, not my illness and that not pracitcing "woundology" is what is best for me). Then, my very wise doctor asked me (in a kind, inquisitive manner), "WHY is it so important that people know what you are going through?" I had all sorts of answers at the time, but I have reflected on that question a lot, and today I don't feel I need to have everyone understand. What a relief. Now when people ask how I am, I just say "oh, about the usual." I don't elaborate anymore. It's made things so much easier. I know there are a few people out there who understand, and that is enough for me right now.

Thanks again for the amazing article!

"Why am I trying to prove I am sick?" ...Now if that isn't a loaded question and a whole other post in itself! See the next day's post on denial. ;) 

But you're right, it is really tricky knowing when to just let peoples' comments slide, and be okay with others' assumptions and judgments being dead wrong, vs. when to assert yourself and explain. It's also hard when you don't want to hide it but also don't want to necessarily elaborate on what's going on (of course with some people that might be fine, but most of the time probably not). It's a work in progress for me, figuring that out.

I have really weird experiences because of being "public" about my health - other people with health problems often open up to me, and we can easily get on the same level and relate. And sometimes they are normally really secretive about it, so it can be a big deal for them. But then people who don't "get it" will often ask me questions that are way too personal, or make comments that are a little inappropriate... It can be a bit uncomfortable!

I've certainly been shifting how I talk about my health (particularly online). I do want to be honest and feel like being public about it is a form of advocacy for others with chronic illness, normalizing it, etc. But I've had some pretty awful fallout from it in my personal life too, so I am more careful these days - which I have pretty mixed feelings about.

And yes - family... you'd think it'd be the easiest with them, right? My parents have swayed wildly from being almost obsessive to making the same kind of assumption as your dad - that if I don't say anything I must be better. I've defiitely found over the past year that it simplifies my life immensely just keeping most of it to myself, and leaving them on a "need to know" basis. Need to know being major diagnoses and not much else.

Thanks for the great comment and sharing your point of view on all of this! xo

This is a much too short comment for such a well thought out post, but I wanted to say that it wasn't until someone I knew had a non-visible health issue that made it hard for them to stand that I adopted a policy of never ever sitting in the priority seats on transit. Who am I to judge based on appearances who needs the seat more than me? having been enlightened, I'd much rather stand than sit in an available priority seat, because I can stand.

That is really thoughtful of you - and frankly I wouldn't even have thought about doing that back when I was feeling a bit better... I seriously wish there was a card that people could flash that says "I need a seat!" so it would alleviate all the social awkwardness!

Indeed, I have a documentary named "Priority Seating" that delves into this binary conundrum. I want to sit; I need to sit; but I feel ashamed for needing that seat because I look fine. I was recently assaulted at an airport for sitting down for two minutes while someone saved my spot on a line to file a claim for lost luggage. When I got back on the line somebody verbally attacked me and said he would call the cops on me for cutting the line (as if the cops would care). I tried to explain that I have an invisible disability and needed to sit for just a couple of minutes, and this man shouted it out to everyone on line, making a spectacle of me. He was a bit off the rails, of course, but this is how those of us with invisible illness are made to feel when we need - not want - the same accommodations that are made for those with visible illness. It's impossible to have a favorable self-image when we're shamed for looking good, but we're also shamed for looking bad.

I find it most frustrating dealing with doctors. I've got OCD, idiopathic hypersomnia, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. I don't know why, but after giving a rundown of how my disorders are affecting me of late, doctors often reply with, "you look really well!" Yesterday, my doctor spent a full two minutes detailing how I appear to others (apparently he thinks I look my most healthy, upbeat, friendly, and optimistic when I'm my most exhausted and dismal). I can't figure out if they think they're being reassuring - like my main concern when I can barely get to work and am losing friends because I can't keep up with their energy levels is my looks - or if they're trying to subtly contradict my perceptions of my own wellbeing.

I have the same issues others have mentioned in trying to decide whether to let my appearance match my illness. I'm a massive perfectionist, so I generally try to look good even if I feel like crap. I broke my leg a few months back and got the cast wet trying to have a shower so I could go to another unrelated doctor's appointment. Then, instead of throwing on anything and hobbling to the hospital to have the cast changed, I insisted on straightening my hair first, which takes like an hour.

That broken leg showed me the difference between how people treat someone who has a clear physical manifestation of an illness and how they treat someone who appears young and healthy but is really a few minutes away from fainting. With crutches and a cast, people held doors for me, offered me their seats on the bus, brought me flowers and cookies and presents, were super accommodating. With my everyday illness, even when I specifically tell my friends that I'm so tired I'm about to throw up, or that I can't stand up for five minutes or I'll faint, or I'm super stressed out (generally all three at once), they barely acknowledge the sentiment, and suggest we go out and do something. Nobody's ever given me a present for having a sleep disorder and autonomic dysfunction.

I don't want to have to look like crap just to get people to understand that I can't function as well as they can.

Aw man Gemma, I know EXACTLY how you feel. Gosh, your words could be mine. It's INFURIATING isn't it? I feel like screaming at doctors like that sometimes, "WHAT I LOOK LIKE DOESN"T MATTER, I FEEL LIKE SHIT!!!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!??!?!?" but then I compose myself and say, "Well, that doesn't really change the fact that I'm too sick to even leave the house most days." They just can't grasp how unwell we are or how deeply it impacts our lives. It's unfair, and I don't really know what to do about it other than keep standing up for myself and not taking it!

And as for friends and family who just minimize illness that's not visible... I could write 100 posts on that and only graze the surface of my feelings about it. I understand all too well what you mean. The only thing I've found comfort in is connecting with others who understand, and dearly appreciating the few people in my life who do "get it" even if most of them don't live near me!

*big hugs!*

I have mast cell disease, a not well known hidden disease and I count myself very lucky to take chemotherapy medicine daily that allows me to function without suffering chronic anaphylaxis.

My long hair was the first thing to bite the dust, I have adapted to wearing a short punky hair do.

I am slow to heal and often find myself wearing some sort of medical apparatus (right now it is walking boot for a separated Achilles tendon).

I swell instantly when pushed on so I live in loose baggy clothing, I cannot tolerate socks or bras.

I hate that I feel slovenly. I have transitioned from wearing a uniform and having a very clean put together appearance (military) to the daily equivalent of pajamas.

Right now its not too terrible, I am medically retired and going to uni but I have stress dreams about starting a new career post degree and having no ability to present a put together professional image.

I'm sure I will figure something out eventually but it is a bit disheartening. I cheered myself up by purchasing rainbow tie dye stretch genie pants, but I'm picturing me going into a biotech firm like that and am like 'OMG, ROFLOL, riiiiight'

Wow Frances - that is a whole other level! Your body is in a very literal sense dictating your fashion options.

If only we lived in a world where our skills and abilities were valued above how we look... "Professional" dress only goes so far if it's going to prevent you from being able to do your job!

I hope you can find somewhere that's open to a "relaxed" look and can make do with loose dresses and some nice accessories. ;)

Thanks for writing this, this is a constant struggle for me too.
I have recently be suffering with a relapse of my depression and mainly anxiety. I have been in denial for months and even had a blood test hoping that there was something wrong with me because at least then I could tell people 'I'm anemic! That's why I'm constantly tired always getting ill and can barely muster the energy to leave the house!'
The blood tests came back normal and I cried, because I knew I had to face the fact that I would have to go back to therapy and would probably have to consider taking meds. I was upset because if I did have something physically wrong with me I could tell my clients, I could tell my family I could tell my friends. People don't know what to say to you when you say you have anxiety problems. They mostly never mention it. Even my boyfriend doesn't seem to ever ask me how it is. If I had something like an iron deficiency, I can guarantee you people would find that a lot easier and would ask me how I am.
I remember a couple of years ago when I told my housemate I would start counselling she said 'you seem to be fine.'
Most people with mental illnesses would make great actors. Does she really think I want to walk around looking like crap and being a misery towards everyone around me.

The pressure felt to act as a fully functioning adult, is real and it's damaging. I don't feel like I can really talk to anyone about my problems, not really. I don't want to be a 'downer' I don't want to bring down the conversation, and yet people have no problem telling me I look really tired or that I'm always tired.
It's not really seen as an illness, and people don't take it seriously. They have no idea how much in effects your life, how your productivity can go from a 10 to a 1. How your perfectionistic nature makes you give even yourself a hard time, because you can't accept that you can't function like everyone else.
I don't have an answer.. I just wanted to express how things are looking from my perspective.

Hi Eleanor - 

Thanks for sharing your experiences - mental illness is truly a classic "invisible illness" because not only is it not seen outwardly, but there aren't even tests for it, like you say! I didn't tell anyone for a long time that I'd had issues with anxiety, but was surprised how supportive many people actually were once I started opening up about it. There's still a long way to go with understanding and being open about mental/emotional issues, but it's become so much more accepted even in the last decade. I hope you can keep standing up for yourself and what you need - it's too hard dealing with things like this in secrecy!

This post is such a beautiful testament to exactly what it's like to live with any type of chronic illness and not be taken seriously. The "pretending to be normal" part of it is so exhausting, but the alternative is being looked at with pity and judgment. There's really no way to win. Very well-written piece. :)

Thank you for this, I've been struggling with chronic illness for a while now and it's comforting to know I'm not alone in my frustrations, especially people assuming I'm not really that sick because I'm not hobbling around on crutches or something and it can feel a bit lonely dealing with something so life altering when loved ones try as they might just don't get it.

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