Why It Can Be Difficult to Not ‘Look’ Sick

When you have an invisible illness, things can be more challenging because you also need to deal with the pain of not looking sick. It feels awful being in pain, living in pain and not being believed. When you have to constantly explain yourself and convince others that your sickness is real and you are not a hypochondriac, it is a horrible feeling.

Take a look at my photo above. At a superficial glance, there’s nothing wrong with me. I look just fine! That’s where everyone is wrong! You and others know little about the war going on under my skin, about the long list of invisible symptoms I experience. I used to get annoyed whenever I was judged based on my appearance, while I was struggling to look “normal.” A few years back I took another approach: I started to Lyme educate everyone. I did my best to explain all that entails being a person with Lyme.

When I attended a social gathering or when I met someone new, I was faced with the the same issue: everyone kept on telling me I looked healthy and that I may have had a wrong diagnosis. At one point I had given up using makeup just because I could not stand one more comment regarding my appearance. I wished to look sick, just to be in line with everyone else, to make it easier for others to believe me. Their disbelief and ignorance made me feel worse than I already did.

Whenever asked what the most annoying symptom was that I had to put up with, I said that it depended on the day I was having. That’s when I saw people raising an eyebrow in disbelief. Those who took an interest in finding out more about the details of my invisible illness know I always tried not to burden them with my daily cocktail of pains and symptoms. Once they heard me describing what the burning felt like, they understood my misery.

The burning under my skin is by far one of the most disturbing symptoms. It never leaves me. It simply increases or decreases its intensity depending on my other symptoms. I also get shifting pain in the muscles, joints and bones, combined with electrical pulses, twitching prickly tingly muscles. All of these things happen within my body on a daily basis. Despite all this, I still manage to put a smile on my face and carry on with my day. Life goes on! I learned how to deal with all these.

Neurological chronic Lyme disease (Neuroboreliosis) takes things to another level. Once the illness starts to affect your nervous system, you have to deal with a new ordeal of symptoms. Some of them are quite strange and bizarre, though not everyone gets to experience all of them in the same time. Some people have these sensations during a flare, a herx (Herxheimer reaction), while others have to deal with them on a daily basis. I count myself among the “lucky” ones who still have them.

When Borrelia Burgdorferi (the main culprit for Lyme) and Bartonella (co-infection) are hijacking your nervous system, you get to experience some unusual sensations, unknown before, like:

  • crawling sensation – a creepy feeling that something is crawling around on or under your skin, throughout your body
  • freezing or burning sensation
  • buzzing or vibrating – better described as a TGV train passing through your body making each single cell vibrate
  • numbness
  • tingling (mostly in the limbs) – being pricked at once with thousands of needles. It does not feel anything like acupuncture. It is a totally different sensation.

How can I translate into words the burning sensation? Imagine that you went to the beach and got a severe sunburn which is making your body and skin ache. What do you do? You avoid touching your skin in order not to feel the pain or the tingling burning sensation. Now try to picture how it feels applying a frozen ice cube on your skin, all over that area that just got sunburnt. I am sure you just shrug your shoulders trying to visualize it. This is the best explanation I could come up with for the burning under my skin. Only difference is that it feels that way throughout the entire body. Some days it might shift from one area to another and it can change its intensity.

The weirdest sensation is when I experience this burning on my head. Generally when you have neurological Lyme (Neuroborreliosis), you get the “privilege” to feel it. That is a bit different. It can feel like you have a slug or an army of ants moving slowly, leaving an icy trail on your skull.

After reading about my daily ordeal, next time you meet someone touched by an invisible illness, please don’t tell him he looks good or healthy! Refrain from saying something that would make him feel worse. Try to be creative. Make an effort and come up with something new!

This post originally appeared on A – Z Lyme.

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