But You Don’t Look Sick

The following is my experience with physical and mental illness. Thank you for reading.

As a chronically ill person, life is about managing the symptoms. Or, at the very least, it feels that way. Life is often incredibly exhausting, having to manage organs that your body has shut down or deal with constant pain that so few people are truly able to understand, in the way that you need people to understand.

Being chronically ill is lonely; I would know.

I have been a diabetic since March 3rd, 2017. My date of diagnosis is engrained into my memory as I will never forget the day that I, nearly on Death’s door, was diagnosed with type one diabetes.

A type one diabetic, and all diabetics in general, who are not given access to both treatment through insulin and the respect of diagnosis, will die, like I could have died. I was diagnosed with type one diabetes at 756 mg/dL (the average non-diabetic is between 80-120 mg/dL!) and so weak that I could hardly walk, stand, or think. My muscles were quite literally being devoured by my own body. The things I used to love no longer made me happy. And I was alone, because I had asked for help and no one had listened.

When I look back on the days before I was diagnosed, I don’t remember much about the pain of diabetic ketoacidosis (the state I was in when I got diagnosed with type one diabetes, i.e. my high blood sugar had created ketones in my blood–deadly and coma-inducing) but I remember the words that were said to me, and all the times that I reached out to people and they didn’t help, not because they couldn’t but because they didn’t want to.

“You just need to exercise.”
But I could barely walk.

“You’re so young!”
I was only thirteen. So why didn’t you help?

“But you aren’t going to die.”
Is death when pain begins?

“But you don’t look sick.”
But I felt sick. I felt sick in my heart, and in my body. Abandoned when I wanted to be remembered and left behind when all I needed was a hand.

Eventually, I got diagnosed with type one diabetes after struggling with the symptoms for a while. And I’m still bitter over it all; I truly believe one of the biggest reasons I was ever brought to get help at the time was because my symptoms were finally getting in the way of other people. I’m sure there were people out there who would disagree, but I don’t remember the moments when I was supported, I just remember who told me that I didn’t look sick when I was, had been, and now have been.

My physical illness, over the course of 2017, quickly turned into mental illness. Because I only remembered the moments when the people that I loved turned their backs on me when I needed them the most, it resulted in lowered self-confidence, increased stress, and the feeling that I couldn’t confide in anyone anymore. Because if they hadn’t believed I was sick when I was physically ill, how where they going to believe me when I was mentally ill? A question I ask now not because physical illness is less stigmatized than mental illness but rather because I was someone who did not show any outward signs of mental illness, not in the same way that I looked extremely pale and lost numerous pounds before my diabetes diagnosis.

Over time, I opened up to people about my mental illness. And no one took me seriously. In the same way that none of them had taken my diabetes seriously.

“You don’t look sick.”
But I am. I promise I am. Just help me, please. I thought.

I never received any help for my mental illness, not in the way that I wanted or in the way that I needed. I’m very lucky that I made it through and that I didn’t become a statistic and instead a survivor.

Now I know that I can do anything. Because I am diabetic. Because I am my own pancreas, because I have to take care of myself on a daily basis and I am so strong because of it. I do things that so many other people can’t.

I am strong. I just wish that I didn’t have to be.

Because who should have to be strong when they are struggling the most? When you feel like death everyday, why should you be left alone, fighting all by yourself and needing to be strong when strength, especially in these scenarios, can be great personal virtues but also an even greater sign of systemic and others’ failures?

No one should need to be strong all of the time. People should have the support systems around them to be built up by their friends, their family.

I personally believe that there are great people within my life who were and are capable of providing that for me, it’s just that they were never taught how to help other people because of a larger systemic failure that is okay with the larger collateral damage and death of physically and mentally ill people. And it’s important that we stop letting people become statistics when everyone has a story to tell, especially when stories are the only way that we can advance as a society as we become more and more inclusive and loving of each other.

“But you don’t look sick.”
But I feel sick. Sick and tired. Physical illness doesn’t go away. I babysit my own body all the time, and I can never escape my own responsibility. It is exhausting a lot of the time. But I’m managing.
I’m doing better mentally now. But mental illness doesn’t go away either, it can only be coped with. And I’m managing.

“Does it hurt?”
Not anymore. It’s normal now. But it used to before. Every day.
But there are other people, please being diagnosed with diabetes today. And they don’t deserve to be hurt by the collective ignorance of others when people in the present are suffering.

We’ve made mistakes in the past. Let’s never make them again, especially knowing just how many lives can be saved now.

“You don’t look sick. But I will always believe you. Forever.”

“The axe forgets; the tree remembers.”

An African & Zimbabwean proverb, from the Shona tribe

2 responses to “But You Don’t Look Sick”

  1. (Kitty) Cat Strawberry - Meow! Avatar
    (Kitty) Cat Strawberry – Meow!

    As a type 1 diabetic from the age of nine, at about the age of 14 I was really struggling at school and my health problems and blood sugar problems were really affecting my ability to study and concentrate at school. I got sick with viruses and DKA a lot and as a result took a lot of time off school. Once I returned a teacher took me aside into her office and told me my attendance was terrible, and that I shouldn’t be missing school anyway as there was nothing really wrong with me. I remember those words ‘nothing really wrong with you’. It showed that utter ignorance of the teachers and the whole system. I’m so sorry people weren’t there for you. We all deserve to be treated much better than we are. Thank you for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so so much for leaving this comment. Gave me the biggest smile to know that I’m not alone. Sometimes being diabetic is so lonely! I’m sorry you had that experience with your teachers, and it isn’t fair that there is so little empathy towards us. Thank you for sharing with me, too. I hope the more and more we talk about it, the more people are going to listen and start making a real difference. I should return to this piece and adapt it. Thank you for the reminder and the warm words, sending lots of kindness!


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