Susan Ortolano, M.A., CMRC, PCC
Intuitive Life & Relationship Coach

But You Don’t Look Sick….

LighthouseI remember after having been ill for about 2 years, one of my closest friends was diagnosed with breast cancer. I spent a lot of time supporting her and certainly understood what it was like to be ill. I knew she was going through the worst time in her life and did my best to be there with her through it. She had a lot of love and support from friends and family and today she is cancer free, which is such a blessing.

People tend to understand when you say the word “cancer” that you are really ill and could actually die. There are often physical signs of that disease and of treatment. Many people lose a lot of weight, lose their hair through chemo and look like they are ill.

 The diagnosis that I had was what we call an invisible illness. Many people don’t know what Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, Lyme disease, etc. are. They look at me and say “well, you don’t look sick” and assume I’m either lying or that I just feel fine.

 There were times I had little support from my family and some friends because they didn’t know what I was experiencing and didn’t look ill to them. There were actually moments where I thought it would be easier to have something like cancer because people would have a better understanding and more compassion.

On one hand, that was all fine. I’m glad I didn’t look sick and didn’t need a pity party, but because I didn’t look ill and people didn’t understand what I was experiencing, I didn’t have as much support as I would have liked. I certainly didn’t need ‘cancer’ to validate my own process.

 There came a point where I just had to let people have their own opinions and process and if they didn’t believe me or offer support, then I just stayed focused on the people in my life who did and let the rest go. The last thing I needed was to spend my valuable time trying to convince people how much pain I was in and why I needed to take good care of myself. It was hardest with family, but focusing on trying to have this make sense for everyone wasn’t serving my healing process and had me focused in the wrong direction.

 I learned to just let people stew in their own thoughts and opinions and just do what I needed to do to take care of myself. It has not been easy at times, but much better for me.

As I did that, I actually had some people come back into my life who tried to understand and I am happy for that, and letting go of the need to explain myself to everyone felt so liberating!

In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson- “We must be our own before we can be another’s.”

 Committing to our own self-care first is most important whether we look sick or not!

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