This week is Invisible Illness Awareness week and although technically this entire blog and everything I share on the Facebook page are related to invisible illness in some way, I wanted to write a specific post to celebrate the week.
There are many issues related to invisible illness that are near to my heart but one point I hope to make by sharing my story is the importance of maintaining authority over our experiences of illness and our own bodies. So many of us suffer through years of being told "it's all in your head" by doctors or told we don't qualify for treatment by insurance companies because we don't fit into a specific label/category or told we aren't "technically disabled" by government assistance programs. I've been told all of this. We see illness and disability misrepresented in media or appropriated for the able-bodied.
It's difficult to quiet the noise sometimes and remember to find our voice again and reclaim the authenticity of what we experience.
For so long I hid my illness and didn't talk about it. I thought if I could just ignore it, I could control it and make it go away. I internalized the voices around me and even punished my body for not adhering to what I was being told: if it truly was all in my head, I thought I could force my body to just comply. It only made me worse.
But going through this made me realize that honesty with myself, with those around me, with the medical community (and refusing to believe I was wrong) was the only way I could achieve acceptance and find a path forward. When I started to be honest, I found that I coud reclaim authority over my body again with my voice. I didn't have to live in terror or punish my body for its refusal to just get back to "normal."
I had to find my own truth again.
Starting this blog and talking about my experience on social media has helped me rediscover that truth and live honestly. It has helped me understand that I cannot control my illnesses but I can control how I respond to them.
I try to represent my experience truthfully, even though it may create cognitive dissonance for some. There is no rhyme or reason with illness. Sometimes you have good days. Sometimes you have bad. And there's a ton of grey in between.
These picutres are an example:
The one on the left was from a few days ago. I've had to spend most of the last two and half months in bed. But every day I wake up, I put some make up on, I get dressed, and I hope today is better than yesterday. I don't feel the part, but I want to look it. I wheeled myself outside and took a selfie. I posted the picture on my blog page and talked about finally getting the Myasthenia diagnosis last month and finally starting treatment. I was feeling ok at that moment and feeling positive about the future. I wanted my smile to represent that. I even put a scarf and earrings on. Bonus points!
Sometimes people will comment about how well I look. I know whatever I look like on the outside belies how I really feel. But I also like puting in the energy to feel good about myself and hoping my body in turn feels a little better. Sometimes it works.
Not long after I took that picture, I had to go lie down with my BiPAP and rest. That is what my day entails now. I have to spend either most of the day or just the afternoon in bed on my breathing machine. I look like a comic book villain when I wear my mask but at least I have some mascara on. You have to own it.
I post pictures of myself when I'm wearing my BiPAP too. I try to make fun of myself sometimes but I also want to represent my experience truthfully. The two pictures are a dichotomy but often that's what illness is.
Whenever I talk honestly about my experience of illness, I have started using the hashtag #MyVoiceMyBody as a reminder that I'm not trying to fit into anyone else's expectations about illness or disability; I'm using my voice to represent my truth. I hope anyone who is reading this will join me in using the hashtag.
Use it to talk about your diagnosis story, use it to spread some humor despite the horrors of illness, use it to raise awareness about your specific condition, use it to make illness (physical and mental) visible, use it to speak your truth and reclaim authority over your own experience.
Over the years, I have found that too often when we speak our truth about our experience of illness, that truth isn't visible for a wider audience. Either we talk in closed groups and message boards online or behind closed doors. Many able-bodied people and many in the medical community have no idea what living with an invisible illness entails. They don't know that so many of us suffer for years without a diagnosis. They don't know that our experiences have been misrepresented. They don't know how good life can be despite illness and all that you can learn from it.
The writer Cherríe Moraga said "silence is like starvation." Speaking your truth is a form of power, a means of survival. When others hear our stories, the stories can raise awareness and inspire change.
All I want is for no one to ever have to hear either "you're wrong" or "I don't believe you" ever again.
So I'm hoping by making illness visible and sharing our truth, someday no one will ever have to hear that and go through the same suffering.
Because this is my voice, this is my body, this is my truth.