What Does “Sick” Look Like?

By Lisa-Marie

Cancer patients often lose their hair.
Diabetes patients usually carry insulin.
Epilepsy patients have seizures.
Chronic migraine patients….look healthy?

One of the biggest struggles for migraineurs is that, to others, we look healthy. Appearing healthy should be taken as a compliment, but to us, it adds an extra challenge. Why, you may ask? Because many people don’t believe someone is sick unless they are portraying obvious signs.

Society naturally sympathizes toward those with visible illness, but judge those who don’t show outward signs or seem to be using illness as an “excuse.” Before you judge, take the time to understand what being sick with an invisible illness can look like.

The most obvious signs of being sick with chronic migraines align with the most extreme forms of pain for us. We are at our peak when we cannot get out of bed without collapsing from our throbbing head. The littlest movements, like turning our head, can churn our stomach and make us frantically reach for our puke bucket.

All we desperately want is silence and darkness. I don’t mean dim lights and a low volume setting, I mean “stranded in the middle of a desert at night” type of setting–no noise, no lights. And of course, we have our handy-dandy ice pack buddy to take a little edge off the pain; it doesn’t do much, but anything helps. And I mean anything.

Our goal is to use as many resources as we can to stop our bodies from fidgeting and stop the stress from making us cry. We know that will only make us worse, and possibly even end up at the emergency room.

In cases such as above, it is easy to see our illness. But what do we look like on a regular basis?

What is sometimes surprising to others, is that every day we are fighting pain. Just because we are not having a migraine attack, does not mean we are not feeling ill. For myself, I have a headache every day. I am so used to having daily headaches that I do not even mention to others that I have a headache at all.

Out of the last ten years, I can only remember having a completely pain-free head for two days total. The rest of the time, I am so used to being in pain, I can function normally (for the most part).

I am used to going to school in pain.
I am used to going to work in pain.
I am used to exercising in pain.
I am used to going out with friends in pain.
I am used to caring for others in pain.
I am used to laughing in pain.
I am used to taking care of myself… in pain.

I hide my headaches well, but sometimes, I’m a little too sick to pretend. This is the stage of pain I personally refer to as a “headache,” although non-migraineurs may refer to that level of pain as a migraine (migraineurs and non-migraineurs have vastly different pain tolerances in my opinion).

Unfortunately, this level of pain comes across to others as me being distant, angry, uninterested, or irritated. On many occasions, I’ve been told I appear to hate someone because of my facial expression. What they don’t know is that the slightest movement of my facial muscles hurts at this level of pain. That includes raising an eyebrow, smiling, and of course, talking. I am still fully focused and reacting to everything mentally, but I am trying to keep my mind at a sort of meditation-state to try to prevent an attack.

In a way, yes, I am being selfish by thinking of my own health needs, but it in no way means I do not care for your presence. I know that’s hard to understand, especially because I do not look like I am in pain.

However that’s the key concept here: don’t automatically assume someone doesn’t like you or care for you because maybe they truly can’t express it in the way you want at all times. Maybe there is a deeper significance to someone’s actions towards you. Don’t be afraid to ask and take the time to understand. The sick don’t always look sick.

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