Sick takes on a new meaning when you struggle day-to-day with an invisible illness. You know your body better than anyone and you know you are not well, but you do not fit into the category of what most people would define as sick. You look fine.
You show up to work and do your job well. You try to maintain a social life and relationships with others. You smile. You laugh. You joke. There are no external clues that might point out to others the grueling pain you are feeling on the inside. If it cannot be seen, it must not exist, right?
I never hesitate to take a sick day…If I am, what others define as, “sick.” Fever and sore throat, stomach bug, flu…You know, contagious illnesses we are all familiar with that take a toll on our bodies and make it impossible to do our jobs. However, most days the pain and other symptoms that accompany fibromyalgia can make me feel as bad or worse than those illnesses combined. The pain has been more vicious than ever as of late, and I often fight through tears while getting ready in the morning because just brushing my teeth is exhausting, and I want nothing more than to crawl back into bed and hope it will pass. But when you live with something every day that never goes away, you learn how to push and push to get by. You learn how to fake it ‘til you make it.
Recently, I spent part of my lunch break going home to fetch a heating pad and a cold compress to get me through the rest of the day. I was telling my co-worker who accompanied me that I’ve never been as close to calling out of work because of fibro symptoms alone than I had been the past few days. He asked me, “So, why didn’t you?”
And that got me thinking, “Why didn’t I call out?’”After all, I live with this condition every single day. I know some days that are worse than others. I know when it is worse than ever, as it has been lately, and when it would be worth me taking a few days to rest my body. Obviously, money is part of the reason, because I, like many others, cannot afford to miss work often. But for the most part, I feel like it all boils down to the same internal struggle I have dealt with since receiving this diagnosis: Fear.
I am afraid of being viewed as weak, incapable, or just making excuses. I am afraid of not being taken seriously. I am afraid of burdening or causing more stress to others. I am afraid that calling out of work because of pain alone would not be viewed as a viable reason, even though I know for a fact it is. Everyone gets headaches. Everyone deals with random aches and pains. Or, the one I hear often, “everyone is tired.” That may be so, and I am not discrediting anyone who deals with any issues. In fact, I have nothing but sympathy and compassion for anyone hurting at any time.
Having a chronic pain condition is different, though. You learn how to function, but you never feel totally 100 percent. It may appear that you are giving your all, but you are often preoccupied with thoughts of your former self and you know you could be doing more. The higher the level of pain, the harder it is to pull off the “I’m OK” act. You literally use every ounce of your energy trying to distract yourself from the pain and trying to accomplish everything you need to do that day. You have to learn when enough is enough, or when can enough be enough. You have to learn when to throw in the towel and give your body what it needs. A year into this journey, I am still trying to learn this lesson in, “Living with Fibromyalgia 101.”
People often tell me they admire me for doing all the things I do while struggling with fibro, but I admire my fellow warriors who are not as stubborn as myself and can actually take the time to do what their body needs. I wish I had the nerve to speak up more when the pain is gnawing at my body and hopefully one day, I will have the ability to do so.
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