I scrolled through my instagram today, and watched a video of me singing with a ukulele (very original, I know) from almost a year ago and reading the slew of comments – compliments, hearts, recognition for how cool people thought I was – was really hard for me.
At the time, my immune system was too weak to fight off hemorrhagic laryngitis (it’s like normal laryngitis except all the blood vessels in your throat burst, super terrible), and I developed an anti-biotic resistant infection. My doctors (multiple in this case) kept saying all I had to do was stay relaxed, not increase my heart rate, and reduce stress so that my body could fight the infection.
Except that I suffer from anxiety – and as the year increased in stress levels, so did my anxiety. My immune system couldn’t keep up. My body and mind have always been too sensitive and too connected to avoid physical illness when my mind was in a rough patch.
I battled with recurring debilitating fevers, flare ups, sore throats and a consistent effort to keep it under control for almost an entire year.
But it made my singing voice sound super cool in the video for Instragram, so…
It’s not as though this was the only health problem I’ve dealt with because of my anxiety. I began to suffer from symptoms of PTSD (after a traumatically abusive relationship) and I developed a nightmare disorder.
In fact, yesterday I was at the doctor for problems with my spleen and ovarian cysts – a result of chronic anxiety and stress.
What I’m really trying to talk about, though, is that feeling about the comments under a video made at a time that I knew I was struggling to face each day with the constant, never ending battle for health I couldn’t seem to win.
It makes me feel alone. I can be right there, in front of people, some I consider close friends, and this huge part of my life is hidden from them, because my illnesses are invisible. It’s surreal, realizing when I post pictures of me receiving awards, everyone thinks, ‘wow, she’s killing it,’ even on days where I feel like my body and mind are killing me.
So, while recycled and aged, please don’t judge people from what you can see on the outside – even people you consider close friends. When you ask someone how they are, really mean it. If a few more people had taken the time to check up on me instead of congratulating me for achievements at university or complimenting me on my clothes and ukulele playing, I would have felt a lot less like the ground was constantly falling out from under me for a majority of the days last year, and worrying that I would seem ungrateful if I spoke out about it.
I’m not saying you should pry, or that you should assume every girl on Instagram with a ukulele is mentally ill, but I am saying that even when someone doesn’t reach out or start a conversation about things they’re going through, if they matter to you, take initiative.
It would have made the WORLD of difference if someone had seen another instagram post of me busy at some or other activity and texted me, “hey, so glad to see you’re achieving so much. I’m sure it must take a toll though, how are you doing?”
Whenever my fiends saw me, they’d say things like, “I am so proud of you, you’re doing so much, it’s so impressive, you’re amazing, you’re so strong, I don’t know how you do it!” It felt IMPOSSIBLE in the face of those sentiments to say, “actually, all things aside, I’m not coping.”
When I did, I’d get horrible advice about stress management, which I’ve covered in this blog post on how to correctly respond to loved ones’ anxiety.
When someone is important to you, going that little extra mile to let them know you recognize that things might be challenging or difficult for them can be incredibly appreciated – and needed.
It seems a bit weird at first, but if you know someone has struggled with invisible illness in the past, chances are they’d appreciate even just letting them know you recognize their rough situation. It might even give that person the courage to take initiative themselves.
Trust me, it could mean the world of difference to them.