You’re pretty (sick)

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Can the same be said for health?

I think the average American would look at health and say either you are sick or you are not. And then they would look at someone like me (and this has happened before) and would tell me “you are too pretty to be sick/have a chronic illness”. But what is health? What is attractiveness? And is it all subjective?

Before my chronic illnesses degraded my health, I used to enjoy looking nice. I wore makeup, brushed my hair and wore nice clothes. But now that I have been in mass amounts of debilitating pain for months and months, I haven’t touched makeup in that long. My hair often goes unbrushed as I am just too exhausted or brain fogged to remember. And now my main method of choosing clothes is by comfort level. I can’t wear jeans or any kind of restricted waistband right now because it puts too much pressure on my bladder and pelvic floor. Now I stick to leggings (well sweater leggings for the winter) and sweatpants. Along with slip-on boots which I often need help putting on because I struggle to lift my leg up high enough to put my foot in. Fortunately, my boyfriend Aaron, helps me put my boots on whenever he is around.

But here is what I’m saying … I don’t feel attractive. I don’t feel pretty. I don’t feel like myself. See picture below of me looking beyond exhausted wearing my migraine hat, which is an ice pack wrap made especially for migraineurs. I have two of them, one that I keep at my home and one that I keep at Aaron’s home.  And as silly as this migraine hat might look, it really helps my migraines. Would I wear it out in public?  I haven’t yet, but I would ..yes.

[Image description: a selfie of Rachel not smiling looking extremely tired wearing her migraine hat]
Isn’t that the thing about being chronically ill? You have to really make a lot of sacrifices and that includes sacrificing how you look. So now I no longer wear makeup or nice clothes…I have to wear migraine glasses in public which are okay but not exactly the fashion statement I want to be making. I get a lot of comments on them. But the fact is …they help reduce my migraines a lot and that is all that matters. Do I like the way I look in them? Not really.

[image description: a selfie of Rachel with long red hair down and a focus on black rimmed glasses with pink lenses. migraine glasses]
If a chronically ill person goes out with people and passes for normal because they dress nicely and/or put makeup on…it’s very likely they will be accused of faking having a chronic illness if other people know about it. There is very much a prescribed notion of what sickness looks like. But I want to tell you that sickness isn’t always easy to see. I can easily hide my chronically ill-rundown-exhausted-look with some makeup and a bit of hair brushing. Okay, so even without makeup, I still don’t technically look sick.

But even still, How can I look attractive when I don’t feel attractive? I don’t feel desirable or wanted. This is not a new phenomenon or specific to me. There are blogs and articles dedicated to this issue, like How to feel sexy when you are in pain?

Just this morning I was in so much pain from physical therapy yesterday that I could barely move, let alone walk. I needed a shower so Aaron helped me. I couldn’t even lift my leg over the bathtub to get in, he had to help me with that and the whole time my legs were shaking. And still, he says I look beautiful and I’m like…yea not really. How can I possibly look beautiful when I am in this much pain? It makes no sense. But he says he knew what he was getting into since I told him very early on about my IC. I can only hope he knows what he is talking about.

When it comes to looks and chronic illness, another huge issue that tends to pop up often is weight. Because of my chronic illnesses, I have difficulty keeping weight on but overall it fluctuates depending on if  I’m in a flare. When I am flaring up really badly, I eat less and therefore lose weight…which is quite noticeable to those around me. People will say things like “Wow! you look so thin!” like it’s a compliment??? But I’m only this thin because I am in so much pain and couldn’t eat like I usually do. It’s this big vicious cycle.

[image description: a selfie of Rachel wearing a Gallaudet sweatshirt with no makeup, hair up, looking exhausted]
 So do I feel pretty? no.

Do I feel pretty sick? You bet you sweet effing bottom I do.


3 thoughts on “You’re pretty (sick)

  1. One of my chronic illnesses causes abdominal bloating and distention, sometimes to extremes both in terms of comfort and visual effect. I have had bad days when strangers asked me when I was due (yes, really). I have also had bad days where people have told me that I look no different from my normal self and that they don’t understand what the big deal is, it’s just a little bloating. They don’t know what it’s like to be in my shoes, to feel the physical and emotional effects of your own body doing things that you have no control over, of it changing on you, hurting you, changing the way people see you and how you see yourself. When I am very bloated I feel bad in a holistic way: I feel exhausted, moody, bloated to the point of pain, pessimistic, unmotivated, unattractive, sluggish, confused, helpless, hopeless and self loathing.

    I am sorry that you are at a point where the pain and exhaustion of your illness are making you feel pretty sick instead of pretty. While I do not share your chronic illness or your struggles, I do share the experience of not feeling like yourself, of feeling betrayed by your own body, and of not feeling attractive. Know that you are not alone. You are entitled to feel however you feel but know that, for the most part, the negatives are not always and forever. Life ebbs and flows. I hope your life becomes less ebby and more flowy soon.

    ~Fellow less invisible illness-er

    1. Not feeling like yourself because of a chronic illness is really just a travesty. I think a lot of us who have chronic illness feel similarly, even if we have different chronic illnesses. Losing control over your body and having no way of knowing what to do to fix it is a terrible feeling…you’re right, it’s easy to feel helpless and hopeless. I’m with you on that. I guess all we can do is know that we are not alone in this…even if we feel like we are.
      I hope life gets more flowy soon too. We shall see. <3

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