A few days ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who is a fellow autoimmune disease warrior. She was explaining to me a physical symptom that she has been experiencing the past few weeks, which causes her entire body to itch. She pushed up the sleeve on her cute top to reveal pink welts forming around her elbow.
The more we talked about it, the more uncomfortable the itching became. She couldn’t stop rubbing her arm. I noticed that the welts were changing from a dull pink to a brighter red. I couldn’t believe that even as we talked about everyday topics, my beautiful, out-going, kind friend was being silently tortured by her body’s never-ending reaction to the environment.
I knew better than to say the words we’ve both heard so many times.
“But you don’t look sick!”
I’m guessing that most people who carry a chronic illness have mastered the art of not looking sick. I try hard to smile and laugh even when I’m secretly dealing with major digestive woes, painful heartburn, joint pain, fatigue or a foggy brain. This week, I’ve been dealing with the symptoms that I dread the most and the ones that are the most difficult to admit: anxiety and depression.
I know how important it is for me to keep my life in balance so I can be as healthy as possible. This means eating clean, getting plenty of rest and managing my stress level. I feel like my body is now fragile. Even a minor disruption can push me into an unhealthy place.
The past six weeks or so, I’ve let my stress get out of control and with that, I haven’t been sleeping well. I knew that Sunday would be the first chance for me to play catch up, and I guess my body also knew that was when it would be OK to crash.
I slept almost the entire day. During the few hours that I was awake, I binged on Netflix, unable to work up the motivation to even clean up the dishes or cook a meal. At one point, I decided it was time to get out of bed, and I know that doing something creative always helps me when I’m down. I imported my photos from the baby shower and edited them. I posted them on Facebook, and then regretted it a few hours later and deleted them. I felt like such a fraud making my life look so perfect.
Monday morning came and our backyard was covered in several inches of snow. Even by Chicago standards, that much snow in the middle of April felt like a smack in the face. Still, it was a fitting portrait of the heaviness that was settling over me. I struggled with the darkness that covered me like a heavy blanket. My anxiety was spinning out of control, reminding me of all of my failures in life.
“Why do you even try?” the anxiety whispers. “You’ve screwed up as a parent. You suck at your job. No one cares about you.”
Thankfully, I’ve been in and out of this state enough now to be able to recognize what it is.
I tried reaching out to a few friends with a text message. I know that thinking of others can pull me out of the darkness.
I debated whether to talk to my husband about it. It would be easier not to make him worry. I know how to pretend I’m all good for the few hours that he’s home in the evening before bedtime. I know how to not look sick.
It’s embarrassing to admit the truth, but I matter-of-factly explained what was going on.
“My anxiety is going crazy today. I’ve been too depressed to do more than what was absolutely necessary.”
I thought about searching the Internet for some herbal tea remedy or a magic fruit that might give some relief. Instead, I knew that this was as much a spiritual battle as a physical one. I prayed and asked God to lift the darkness.
By Tuesday morning, I could feel my hope returning. The snow had melted. The sun was shining. I ran an errand to get something that was just for me.
Today, I’ve given myself permission to ignore the house and not start a to-do list. I’m taking some time off work this week, so I had planned to organize my house. Instead, I took a nap at 9 a.m. (NOT KIDDING!) and then went for a long walk to soak up some Vitamin D and long overdue warmer temps.
I’m thankful today for my bouts with anxiety and depression. I know that some people get buried much deeper than I do and for far longer.
A friend of mine reached out today and shared his own struggle with anxiety. There was something so comforting about knowing that I’m not alone. He reminded me that God is in control of the details and I don’t need to worry about begin good enough. It was helpful for someone else to give me permission to stay in bed, to rest or do whatever I needed to do to deal with it. I was thankful not to hear those words:
“But you don’t look sick!”
Maybe we all carry an unseen weight that’s hard to admit. Maybe we’re all covering up our own form of endless itching, digestive issues or anxiety, even when everyone around us looks so happy and healthy. It feels way too vulnerable to even push the “publish” button on this today, but it helped to write it… And maybe someone else needs to know they aren’t alone.