© Copyright 2023 by Lauren Barrett
Photo of Lauren.
adjust the camera on my phone for what seems like the 100th time
trying to find the perfect angle and lighting to capture my face. It
Sighing in defeat, I get ready to press the join button. No one will care what I look like in a chronic illness support group anyway.
But wait…what if they think I look too healthy? I don’t want to be exposed as a fraud.
“Look at her. Who does she think she is joining this meeting with impeccable lighting and glowing skin? There’s nothing wrong with her. She’s HEALTHY! Out with her!”
Maybe I should tousle up my hair and lie down. Yes! I need to lie down. People with chronic illnesses most certainly can’t sit up. And I need to get my icepack contraption that covers my whole head and soothes my aching jaw pain. Ohh! As soon as I join, I’ll groan too - really selling it and marking my territory that I belong here, dammit. Not an exaggerated groan. Just a whimpering one that says I’m in pain, but I’m trying to tough it out. They’ll think I’m admirable. They’ll accept me.
I look down at my clothes. Perfect, I’m wearing pajamas - I mean, it is after 8PM and I just got out of the shower, but they’ll surely think that I’ve been in them all day, my pain too unbearable to even imagine pulling a shirt over my head and a pair of pants over my legs. They’ll have to believe me. I’m sure of it.
Believe. Whew, there was that heavy word again, weighing me down from years of wondering if people actually believe me.
As someone with chronic medical conditions, Hashimoto’s, Fibromyalgia, and as of recently acute insomnia (because why not tack on one more to the list), to be exact, it’s commonplace for someone like me to struggle with people believing me since my illness constantly changes and flare ups come and go. And to be fair, I don’t look or sound sick. My illness is invisible.
This can lead to a lot of anxiety when I have to talk to someone about my illnesses, especially considering how long it took to get an official diagnosis of both Hashimoto’s and Fibromyalgia. Each doctor seemingly brushed me off.
What I first remembered the most was the feeling of being tired. Not “I Need a 15 Minute Catnap” tired, but extreme fatigue from basically walking and existing. The aches and pains in all my bones came next. I could barely walk, let alone run, one of my favorite activities.
The first doctor I saw was a podiatrist. He thoroughly examined and x-rayed my feet. Somewhat puzzled, he proclaimed that I might have a slight stress fracture. He suggested a boot for a few weeks. Feeling silly, I obliged. I wore it for the prescribed amount of time, all the while thinking that it had done nothing to help and we really weren’t getting to the root of the problem.
Several months passed with some dull aches and pains present, but overall, nothing too extreme. I continued running and living a normal lifestyle. My pains came back with a vengeance in the spring, but they were different this time. The muscles in my limbs hurt as well as my joints. I even experienced what I would describe as tingling and numbness in my arms and legs from time to time. It was much worse this time around. I felt a constant need to stretch everything out or lie down. I needed to seek some help.
The second doctor that I saw was my primary care doctor. She seemed perplexed too. My blood was drawn and when the results came in, she suggested a medicine that did nothing to help at all.
2014 was here, and I would experience the pains for weeks with them
subsiding for a few days. I tried ice packs. They worked for the time
being. I revisited the doctor’s office, and this time she
prescribed me anti-depression pills. I rolled my eyes. I wasn’t
depressed and never even had told her that. I refused to take them.
The third time I saw my PCP she suggested I get a scan of my brain because maybe it was Multiple Sclerosis. “We just want to rule everything out.” I stared at them in disbelief. Sure, they would never conclude that I had MS just because I ticked one box. But there I was getting my head scanned, the first of many due to developing an unrelated brain aneurysm the following year. The results came in and just as I expected everything was normal. Goodbye money.
By this time, I was fed up with the cocktail of drugs they tried to force upon me and the number of futile tests I had to endure. I switched doctors in September of 2015. My new doctor ran some blood work and informed me my thyroid levels were off. She sent me to what was now the 4th kind of doctor I had seen, the endocrinologist.
There, he confirmed that I had Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease of the thyroid. In all, it means I have an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). His response to my question on where do I go from here was vague. He was the kind of doctor that couldn’t make eye contact and talked in hard to understand medical language. I left with the impression that I just do…nothing?
A couple of months later I went back to my new doctor. In dismay, she shook her head when I told her of the endocrinologist’s advice. I left her office that day with a referral to a new endocrinologist and a whole list of medicine and vitamins to take: Nature Throid, Inflavonoid, Methyl B12, and Vitamin D. As I scanned my credit card for medicine and some new procedure for the umpteenth time, I prayed this time it would pay off.
A few weeks later after taking the medicine, my prayers were answered. I felt the best I had in years. A renewed energy. The road to recovery was underway.
But each time a new symptom seemed to arise I had to go through the same process as my first diagnosis, getting bounced around from doctor to doctor with even some doctors questioning my mental health.
“Well my mental health and anxiety are starting to not be good, the more you seem to believe my physical ailments are just ‘all in my head,’ “ I wanted to scream at them.
Now, it’s no wonder, I’m left with these kinds of questions each time my illness is up for discussion…
Does my doctor believe me after I call her up for the third time this week with new symptoms popping up every day - joint pain, muscle pain, extreme fatigue….
Does work believe me after I call out sick for the fourth time in two weeks even though technically I look anything but sick as someone who appears to be a healthy and fit 33-year old…
Do the ER nurses and doctors believe me as I come crawling in on hands and knees begging them to help me sleep after nearly a week of sleepless nights while swearing to them that I’m not some addict looking to score drugs…
Does my husband believe me when I tell him that tonight I just simply can’t? I can’t clean up the dishes in the sink. I can’t give our son a bath. I need to lie down…
Do my friends believe me when I change my diet for what seems like the millionth time? Gluten free. Dairy free. Soy free. Sugar free. And the stringent plans for a night out must fall into my parameters: home by an exact time, limited drinking, and I can neither stand or sit for too long…
Do I even believe me? I’m exaggerating. I’m being dramatic. I don’t belong in a chronic illness support group. I’m not that bad… STOP!
I smooth out my hair and sit up straight. I smile because I like smiling, and I’m going to be positive because I like being positive despite everything. I belong here because I love myself enough to do this for me and no one else.
Before any other self-deprecating and negative thoughts can even enter the realm of my mind, I press join. I see a sea of different faces and after 10 minutes or so, a wonderful feeling arises. I feel believed - vindicated for every experience I’ve ever had related to my chronic illnesses. Why? Because they all have similar stories.
They take away my anxieties. They take away my doubts. They take away my negative views of myself. And instead they replace it all with validation, acceptance, confidence.
With this support group, I learned that the first step to recovery from anxiety is being believed. Being believed that what I say is true.
And for the first time in a while, I sigh with relief.
I am a multi-passionate mom working to help all parents become their best selves and build positive relationships with their kids through mindful parenting.
I graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Deaf/Elementary Education and East Carolina University with a Master's in Reading Education.
I have been a high school
teacher of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing by day for 11 years,
cross country coach for 10 years, and a mom blogger for 3 years. I am
also a mom to an amazing 4 year old. I
love my faith, running, visiting MLB stadiums with my husband,
chocolate, scrapbooking, pretending I would actually do well on the
Amazing Race, re-watching The Office, listening to Bobby Bones, and
helping out all moms. I live in North Carolina with my husband,
James, and son, Henry.