Today is a post I hadn’t intended to write so early in the formation of this blog. But, due to my sketchy availability the last few weeks, it’s been unavoidable. Today I’m writing to you from a position of vulnerability as we talk about something important: Life with an Invisible Illness.
What is an Invisible Illness?
Invisible Illnesses are chronic conditions that often cause pain, but may not have visible symptoms. Some common invisible illnesses are fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, MS, and arthritis. These diseases can cause intense pain and can be debilitating. Due to the “invisible” nature of pain, these conditions are not only difficult to diagnose but those who have them are often faced with criticism from friends and doctors alike, who may believe it’s made up.
The Bad Days
Invisible illness is isolating. The pain can make it hard to get out of bed. It can make you sick to your stomach. It can be hard to breathe. The pain can make you dizzy. You can get horrible headaches. And science doesn’t know why it happens. My invisible illness is exhausting, so I spend all day asleep with a hot pad under my back. My knees propped up by pillows to relieve the pressure on them and on my hips. I have to wear shoes around the house with arch supports. If I know I have to leave my house, I spend a good 2 hours gathering my strength to do it, and preemptively take medication to lessen the pain. An invisible illness makes you feel betrayed by your body. I WANT to go out and get a drink with you, my body does not.
The Good Days
On good days I am unstoppable. There are rare and beautiful days where nothing hurts. Those are the days that I get the most done. I catch up on housework, get a lot of posts written, and often beg my husband to go on an adventure somewhere since I feel up to leaving the house I’m usually stuck in. These are the days where I take as many pictures as I can, where I smile the biggest, laugh the loudest, and enjoy life the most.
What Can I Do to Help?
If someone you know has an invisible illness, believe them when they say they are tired. Believe them when they say it hurts. Believe them. Educate yourself about different kinds of invisible illnesses, and help spread awareness of them. If you have questions, ask your friend or family member if it’s alright to ask them about their condition. Or ask your questions to a doctor who specializes in pain management.
I think I have an Invisible Illness, What Can I Do?
talk to your doctor and take notes
Talk to your doctor about your symptoms. It might help to keep a journal with a daily addition of “today this hurt, this much, for this long… I took this to help…” and such. Something that also helped me personally was investing in a fitness tracker. My model tracks my sleep and my activity. This is useful for the days where I feel a lot of pain before bed, I make a note of that, and then if I have horribly disrupted sleep, I add that to my notes as well. It also helps to show how my pain levels affect my physical activity.
soak in the bath
Warm showers and baths can be beneficial. However taking extremely hot baths or showers could actually be causing you more pain. Extreme heat and extreme cold can also cause dehydration, so bring a cool glass of water with you! You can also add things to your bath! I like to add Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) which I have found to help aid in muscle relaxation, a decrease in pain, and also magnesium helps to promote healthy and restorative sleep. You can also add some yummy bath salts, bubble bath, or even a fun bath bomb! Whatever helps you to relax and destress.
drink your water
Drinking plenty of water is also extremely important. Muscle fatigue can occur when you start becoming dehydrated, in addition to causing muscle cramps. A properly hydrated body will experience less muscle and joint stress. I will admit, I don’t like the taste of water. However, I will drink gallons of soda (carbonated) water! (Also know as seltzer or club soda.) It made sense for me to invest in a ‘soda-maker’, I just don’t pour in the syrup! Another way to make boring water interesting is to add fruit to it and make an Infused Water! Lemon is a very popular choice; I also enjoy fresh cucumber, mint, lime. Strawberry basil is pretty good too!
befriend a cat
Ah yes, my favorite tip of all. Studies have shown that cats are directly beneficial to their human’s health. In fact, cat purrs vibrate within a range that is medically therapeutic. How cool is that?! Just another reason to love my fluff ball.
And most importantly, love yourself. Remember that you aren’t alone. I love you. We are in this together.