I Have An Invisible Illness

I Have An Invisible Illness

But it does not define me.
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John 7:24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

Being a teenager with an invisible illness is tough. I look perfectly fine on the outside. No one has any idea that I am sick unless I tell them, but I'm far from fine on the inside.

Having an invisible illness can be great when you go about life not looking like a typical sick person and no one knows the truth about your weak and damaged body. It's when people learn about your illness that it gets worse. Trust me, I get it, it's a hard concept to understand that someone who looks fine isn't actually fine; but just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not there. Just because you can't see my illness, doesn't mean it isn't real and doesn't impact my daily life.

What you see on the outside is a beauty queen, a college student, a Tex-Mex fanatic, a proud and loving sister, daughter, girlfriend, and friend. What you don't see are the medications I take in the morning so I can function half as well as the typical girl my age, the specific workout plan I have to follow to try to train my heart to work properly, the hours I have to lay in bed or sit on the floor in the bathroom fighting my debilitating nausea or the multiple doctors appointments I have scheduled every week.

And that's okay because I don't want you to see all of that. I want you to think I'm alright and strong, a fighter; but when you find out the truth, I want you to be my friend. I want you to be okay with not understanding how I may feel okay after eating a meal one day, but feel sick after a meal the next, or that I can't always go out for social events because my body is too physically exhausted from trying to function. I'm not asking you to get it, I'm just asking you to accept it.

Last year, one of the people I considered my very best friend, didn't accept the fact that she didn't understand my invisible illness. Instead, she sent me the most hurtful and distressing text message I have ever received. It had many mean things written in it, but the most hurtful thing it read was, "Your illness is bullshit." Those words have affected me every day since I got that message because it was the first time in my life someone hadn't tried to understand.

I know that people don't understand my invisible illness because I try my hardest to prevent it from affecting my life. And I will never expect someone to understand. I know that I do my best to maintain a "normal" life and strive to be recognized for my accomplishments outside of my illness. But that isn't a reason to assume my illness isn't real.

If you know that I am sick, please just acknowledge it and accept it. Be ok with the fact that I may look healthy on the outside, but my body is fighting to stay alive on the inside. Please know that I do my best to participate in as many regular activities as I can because I want to be a part of your life too. Just please don't think my illness isn't real, please don't think I make it up for attention. Because if you lived a day in my life, you would know just how much I pray and wish I lived a regular life, like you.

I'm proud of my illness and I will never hide that it is a part of my life. I will continue to prove that my normal is just as good as your normal. I could never imagine a life without my illness because, without it, I wouldn't be who I am today.

It may be invisible, but it is real. I may look fine, but I am not. My illness is a part of me, but it does not define me. I am so much more than my illness.

All I ask is that you accept me for who I am and how God made me. I'm not asking you to understand why He made me this way...because I don't either.

Cover Image Credit: Alex Wilkins

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Yes, I Had A Stroke And I'm Only 20

Sometimes bad things happen to good people.
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Recently, I read an article on Cosmo that was written by a woman that had a stroke at the ripe old age of 23. For those of you who don't know, that really doesn't happen. Young people don't have strokes. Some do, but it's so incredibly uncommon that it rarely crosses most people's minds. Her piece was really moving, and I related a lot -- because I had a stroke at 20.

It started as a simple headache. I didn't think much of it because I get headaches pretty often. At the time, I worked for my parents, and I texted my mom to tell her that I'd be late to work because of the pain. I had never experienced a headache like that, but I figured it still wasn't something to worry about. I went about my normal routine, and it steadily got worse. It got to the point that I literally threw up from the pain. My mom told me to take some Tylenol, but I couldn't get to our kitchen. I figured that since I was already in the bathroom, I would just take a shower and hope that the hot steam would relax my muscles, and get rid of my headache. So I turned the water on in the shower, and I waited for it to get hot.

At this point, I was sweating. I've never been that warm in my life. My head was still killing me. I was sitting on the floor of the bathroom, trying to at least cope with the pain. Finally, I decided that I needed to go to the hospital. I picked up my phone to call 911, but I couldn't see the screen. I couldn't read anything. I laid down on the floor and tried to swipe from the lock screen to the emergency call screen, but I couldn't even manage that. My fine motor skills were completely gone. My fingers wouldn't cooperate, even though I knew what buttons needed to be pressed. Instead of swiping to the emergency call screen, I threw my phone across the room. "Okay," I thought, "Large muscle groups are working. Small ones are not".

I tried getting up. That also wasn't happening. I was so unstable that I couldn't stay standing. I tried turning off the running water of the shower, but couldn't move the faucet. Eventually, I gave up on trying to move anywhere. "At what point do I just give up and lie on the floor until someone finds me?" That was the point. I ended up lying on the floor for two hours until my dad came home and found me.

During that two hours, I couldn't hear. My ears were roaring, not even ringing. I tried to yell, but I couldn't form a sentence. I was simply stuck, and couldn't do anything about it. I still had no idea what was going on.

When the ambulance finally got there, they put me on a stretcher and loaded me into the back. "Are you afraid of needles or anything?" asked one EMT. "Terrified," I responded, and she started an IV without hesitation. To this day, I don't know if that word actually came out of my mouth, but I'm so glad she started the IV. She started pumping pain medicine, but it didn't seem to be doing anything.

We got to the hospital, and the doctors there were going to treat me for a migraine and send me on my merry way. This was obviously not a migraine. When I could finally speak again, they kept asking if I was prone to migraines. "I've never had a migraine in my whole life," I would say. "Do you do any drugs?" they would ask. "No," I repeated over and over. At this point, I was fading in and out of consciousness, probably from the pain or the pain medicine.

At one point, I heard the doctors say that they couldn't handle whatever was wrong with me at our local hospital and that I would need to be flown somewhere. They decided on University of Maryland in Baltimore. My parents asked if I wanted them to wait with me or start driving, so I had them leave.

The helicopter arrived soon after, and I was loaded into it. 45 minutes later, I was in Baltimore. That was the last thing I remember. The next thing I remember was being in the hospital two weeks later. I had a drain in my head, a central port, and an IV. I honestly didn't know what had happened to me.

As it turns out, I was born with a blood vessel malformation called an AVM. Blood vessels and arteries are supposed to pass blood to one another smoothly, and mine simply weren't. I basically had a knot of blood vessels in my brain that had swelled and almost burst. There was fluid in my brain that wouldn't drain, which was why my head still hurt so bad. The doctors couldn't see through the blood and fluid to operate, so they were simply monitoring me at that point.

When they could finally see, they went in to embolize my aneurysm and try to kill the AVM. After a successful procedure, my headache was finally starting to subside. It had gone from a 10 on the pain scale (which I don't remember), to a 6 (which was when I had started to be conscious), and then down to a 2.

I went to rehab after I was discharged from the hospital, I went to rehab. There, I learned simple things like how to walk and balance, and we tested my fine motor skills to make sure that I could still play the flute. Rehab was both physically and emotionally difficult. I was constantly exhausted.

I still have a few lingering issues from the whole ordeal. I have a tremor in one hand, and I'm mostly deaf in one ear. I still get headaches sometimes, but that's just my brain getting used to regular blood flow. I sleep a lot and slur my words as I get tired. While I still have a few deficits, I'm lucky to even be alive.

Cover Image Credit: Neve McClymont

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5 Things Anxiety Has Prevented Me From Doing

I swear that on the inside, I am as outgoing as they come.

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On the inside, I want to be such an outgoing person. I want to talk to people and go out of my comfort zone–the whole nine yards. Sadly, I'm not like that, because anytime I start to be a little outgoing, a tiny voice in my head pulls me all the way back. And that tiny voice is named anxiety.

Here are a few things that voice has stopped me from doing.

1. Being in theatre 

I love to dance and sing and act out different scenes in movies... All in the comfort of my own bedroom at three in the morning. There have been so many times that I could have auditioned for "Rocky Horror" or "The Addam's Family," but something holds me back. And that something is a tiny little voice named anxiety.

2. Making friends 

I can't count how many times I have seen someone–or know of someone–and want to become their friend. But I can't even say "hi" because Mr. Anxiety has convinced me that they are going to think I am a freak of nature and laugh in my face. That being said, I have had the same classes with the same people since I started college, and I just started talking to them FOUR YEARS LATER.

3. Complimenting people

I love different, unique styles and think that people who dress differently are awesome. But I cannot bring myself to compliment someone's shoes because they may think I am a stalker or am obsessed with them. Thanks, little voice in my head.

4. Being a normal student 

I have failed exams because I can't bring myself to go to my professors for help. I sit through hour and 15-minute lectures with a full bladder because I don't want people to notice that I am getting up. I say that I didn't do my homework when I did, just so I won't have to talk in class. I can't be a normal college student because I am scared that everyone is judging me.

5. Expressing my opinion 

There have been so many times that my opinion could have saved me from wearing an ugly dress, gotten my group a better grade, or even stopped a fight, but I kept quiet. I don't say a word because what if people don't agree with me? What if they think it's dumb?

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