Doctor - What are your mornings like?
Patient - I wake up in pain. The kind of pain that I did not know anyone could live with. I take my medication. I go back to bed.
Doctor - And, does the medication stop the pain?
Patient - No, It just takes the edge off it.
Doctor- Does sitting, standing, or lying down help your pain?
Patient - Usually lying down with my legs propped up helps.
Friend - I came by to see if you wanted to go to lunch.
Sick Friend - I would love to get out of this house. However, I have been in so much pain today. I am afraid I would not be very good company. Maybe we can try it another day.
Friend – But, you do not look like anything is wrong with you.
If these words ring cold in your ears, you, like me, are probably suffering with the Autoimmune Deficiency Disease of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). With RA, the body fights off infections. However, once the illness has healed, the body malfunctions and continues fighting as if the disease is still in your body. It then attacks parts of your body that are perfectly healthy. Joints and internal organs are at risk. Having suffered with Arthritis for over thirty years, I cannot count how many times I have heard those words. "You don't look like anything is wrong with you."
At first, we accepted the statement as a compliment. You think to yourself, "At least I don't look as bad as I feel." Nevertheless, as it continues to ravage your physical frame, those simple words start to cut into your spirit. Maybe the person is attempting to pay you a compliment. On the other hand, maybe, when they cannot see any visible changes in your appearance, that person simply cannot phantom that you could be as ill as you say you are.
No matter what their reason, we need to hear and feel the validation. "Yes, I can tell you don't seem to feel well today". "Yes, I see you are moving slower and with great difficulty". These are words, you may never hear. Not even from your doctor. The absence of these words is what sends so many of us into depression and eventually to a psychologist.
Our world has changed forever. To stop the pain, we will go through many treatments, medications, medical procedures, and operations. If we are lucky, we find something that gives us temporary relief. After all, that is actually what all the exercise, change in what we eat, and the barrage of medical treatments are for. We simply want to stop the pain.
For years, many of us conceal our illness from our employer, our family and our friends. We do not want to be different. We cannot afford to lose our job. Or passed over for a promising promotion. We do not want our family to think that we are needy and our friends to think that we are no longer fun loving. We want to appear as normal as possible.
RA eventually makes decisions for us. We finally conclude that we are going to have to end our careers. Our getting dressed for work used to take a casual hour. Now, it may take two or three hours. On the other hand, we may start getting ready for work and simply do not have the energy to push ourselves any further. We reluctantly return to bed, maybe for that day or maybe for that week. RA does not operate within our timetable and neither does the depression that so often accompanies it.
Usually, we only let people in when the illness has become chronic. Our bodies have deteriorated to the point that we must enlighten others of our inability to take full care of ourselves. Our being told, by well meaning family members, "you just needed to get out of bed", does not give us the energy to get up. Our being cautioned "You are on too much medication", does not stop the unbearable pain that we, not the well-meaning love one, are experiencing without the medication. There is little sympathy or understanding for suffers of the invisible illness of RA.
As time passes, our invisible illness starts to outwardly show its' ugliness. By that time, we have usually experienced years of chronic pain, feelings of separateness, miss understanding, and our social calendar is nonexistent.