• Erin Zaranec

Yes, I know I don't "look sick"

Even though I choose to write a blog about my chronic pain and illness, I never felt the need to explain myself to anyone. I've brushed off plenty of bad days with a simple "oh, I'm not feeling well" or a quick "it's just a stomach ache."


Now that I'm about a month away from surgery, though, I've been forced into a few more explanations. Explanations, of course, lead to commentary.


In the past few weeks, I've heard everything from "well, at least you're not really sick" to "no way, you don't look sick at all."


In a sense, I get it. I could be a lot worse off. I could be facing way, way more terrible things. And I'm so grateful I'm not. I'm grateful for the fact that I can walk and talk and breathe and eat on my own. I'm grateful to not reside in a medical facility or rely on medical devices throughout the day.


But, y'all. Just because I don't look sick doesn't mean I'm not sick.


There's so many days where getting out of bed requires a pep talk... and a heating pad... and foam roller... and PT stretches. Hell, there's days where standing up from my desk is a task I need a few minutes to work up to.


I'm in my mid-twenties and plan most of my life around a calendar of cyclic pain.


I have days (sometimes a full week if I'm lucky!) where I can do allll the things. I take advantage of these weeks and rush around in a flurry of smiles and pain free movements. I go to work and the gym and the store and on dates and to the bar with my friends and I feel so damn normal I could cry tears of joy. Because I know, somewhere lurking in the background is a dark day.


My dark days range from hazy to pitch black. On a hazy day, I can still function with a smile on my face, I just typically have my heating pad in arm's reach at all times and swap my jeans for leggings. On a dark day, struggle begins to set in. I usually have cramping, lingering pain in my back and hip, and shooting pains throughout my pelvic region. These days, taking a step too hard can end my whole day. I'm functional but always on high alert.


My pitch black days often pass by as a blur. These days every movement comes with pain. I'm consistently nauseous and can typically feel my muscles tightening to a point where it feels like they may just snap. My lower back throbs with pain so intense that there's simply no position that will bring me comfort. My stomach bloats to a point where I go up a full pant size and there's no way to bring it back down.


Even on my pitch black days, I try my best to avoid pity parties. I tend to keep to myself and not bother anyone, I simply curl up in some type of semi-kinda-sorta-comfortable way and binge Netflix or read until the worst of my pain passes.


That's the thing about it - I've found that people who don't look sick tend to try and convince themselves that they aren't worthy of being treated like they're sick, not worthy of any special accommodations or a bit of extra attention. Even if I'm fighting an "actual illness" like the flu or a cold, I've never been one to have a pity-party mentality. I always say that if you act sick, your body stays sick - so I try and push through.


But with chronic pain... with this type of issue... somedays I don't have the energy to push.


I know I don't look sick. You've probably interacted with so many people in your life who were fighting through a chronic pain. Smiling and laughing and keeping up with the conversation just to give themselves a little piece of being normal for the day. We may not look sick, but you don't need to tell us that.


The Invisible Illness series will be published on Mondays, detailing my journey with chronic pelvic pain and the various treatments I am prescribed.