Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.
By Kristin George
You see a woman of twenty-five with curled hair and meticulously placed makeup. You see a woman with an assortment of dresses all vibrant in color. You see a woman with a smile lighting up her face. You see a woman who laughs freely and talks candidly. You see a woman who looks your definition of healthy.
You don’t see what I see. I see a woman nearly twenty-six whose body acts years beyond its age. I see a woman who wakes up every day with pain evident in her eyes. I see a woman who goes days, even weeks without ever stepping out of the house because the pain is too great and the effort is too tiresome. I see a woman who spends days in the hospital having procedures and tests. I see a woman who takes nearly thirty pills a day just to try and help her body function properly.
You see eyes lined with makeup. What you don’t see is that the makeup hides the pain in my eyes—the pain that I’m trying my best to hide. You see vibrantly colored dresses. What you don’t see is my form underneath that fluctuates nearly every day with my difficulty to eat. You see a smile. What you don’t see is that underneath that smile lies anguish and pain. You see health because you can’t see underneath my outward appearance. What you don’t see is how hard my body has to work just to digest food or how hard it has to work just to walk around the house.
You see weakness in me because I can’t do everything others can do. But I see strength because I am trying to conquer something many wouldn’t be able to handle. You see me at my best and wonder why I can’t work or make it to every social event. What you don’t see is how hard I have to push my body just to leave the house for one day. You don’t see how I have to recover for several days after leaving the house only once.
You see your health. You don’t see mine.
Many try to compare their health to mine, telling me they are going through something I wouldn’t even understand. I definitely sympathize with others and my illness has certainly allowed me to be more empathetic. But please don’t compare what you are going through to the life-altering illnesses I have. Unless you have to rest after taking a shower, you can’t comprehend the frustration and exhaustion that comes from such a simple task. Unless every bite of food terrifies you because you know it has the potential to cause severe pain, you can’t understand the anxiety that builds from having a chronic stomach condition. Unless you often cannot even drink water because of the pain it causes, you can’t understand the effects of dehydration.
Unless you physically can’t pull yourself out of bed because your body is weak, dehydrated, and malnourished, you can’t understand the effects of a chronic illness. Unless you have agonizing pain that seems to never go away and forces you to take narcotics, you can’t understand this level of chronic pain. Unless your pain never goes away, you can’t understand the severity of pain. Unless you are forced to forego your career, you can’t understand what it’s like to lose everything you worked for in college when you’re only twenty-five. Unless you have lost friends because they don’t understand the nature and difficulty of your illness, you can’t understand the loneliness and isolation disease brings.
Unless you cannot go out in public for fear of becoming sick, you can’t understand the battle of having to leave your house or remain inside the rest of your life. Unless your illness dictates your life choices, you can’t understand the effects of a chronic illness and how much it can change your entire life. Unless you are chronically ill, you just can’t understand.
Please do not tell me that I am lucky that I’m not going through what you are. I will sympathize with you and give you advice. I will lend an ear or a tissue if you need to cry. I will be a friend to you and let you tell me anything you want about your medical condition. But please don’t ever tell me that what you’re going through compares to or is worse than what I am enduring. If you are still able to work and leave the house, you can’t possibly understand.
Please don’t tell me that you wish you could sleep twelve hours a night or stay home all day and please don’t make fun of me because I do. You cannot understand the fatigue that comes with having a calorie intake so low the doctors say my body is in starvation. You cannot understand the fatigue that comes from being in pain constantly. You cannot understand the isolation and loneliness that comes from being inside almost every single day when nobody comes to visit or even call. You cannot understand how it feels to be forgotten because you’re not the person you used to be.
Please don’t make me feel like it’s my choice or a blessing to not have a job. You cannot understand how much I wish I could focus on my career instead of my health. Becoming chronically ill made pursuing my degree seem almost worthless. Please understand that I don’t want to be stuck on a couch all day with my only connection to humans being television or book characters.
Please don’t try and push me harder than I am able. I understand my body better than anybody else and if I tell you I am too tired, too sore, or too nauseous believe me. Understand that I will pay dearly if I overwork my body. Just because you think I look healthy on the outside, my body is waging a war inside of me. Please don’t pressure me to exercise if I tell you I don’t feel good. If I don’t listen to my body, I will only become sicker and sicker in the coming days.
Please don’t encourage me to eat foods I am unable to and respect my boundaries and my limits. There are certain things that will make me incredibly sick for days and feeling pressured to eat something I shouldn’t can lead to extreme consequences. Please enjoy whatever you desire but don’t pressure me into doing the same. Respect my dietary needs and don’t tell me to eat more than I should. Too many times people tell me to eat more, yet they don’t understand that eating when I am nauseous can lead to excruciating pain.
Please don’t treat me any differently that you did before I became ill. But please understand that you are going to have to adapt differently to my needs. I may be unable to leave the house to see you. You can always come to me and I will be happy to have a friend in my house. I may be unable to eat at a restaurant, but you can always bring food for yourself to my house. I may be different than you remember me, but I still need human interaction just as much if not more.
You see something you can’t understand. But if you let me, I will help you see what I see.
Ever since Kristin George was young, she has harbored a passion for both reading and writing and that passion translated into her college studies as she received both a BA and an MA in English with a concentration in Professional Writing and Rhetoric. She has since written a Christian fiction novel, a children’s book intended to be a series, as well as several articles for her blog called Strength in Pain (https://strength-in-pain.tk/). In addition, her articles can be found on FinerMinds, The Mighty, You & Me Medical Magazine, Army Press, My Invisible Life, and Healthy Life Who.