I’ve lived with chronic illness my whole life. In the past, I’ve been seen as an attention-seeking hypochondriac by doctors, teachers, co-workers, family, and friends. Now, that I have proper diagnoses, I no longer have to deal with these trauma-inducing reactions, but for others, the struggle is still on.
At the beginning of the year, I wrote a question on Quora that I thought might garner a dozen or so responses. In the past few months, the question “What’s the most unprofessional thing a medical doctor said to you?” has blown up with more than 100 responses, and I get new ones almost every day.
While I haven’t been able to read them all, I’ve skimmed the large majority. If you decide to do the same, be warned, they may trigger you and make you angry. They sure did me.
However, once I was able to get past my initial emotional response, I found some interesting similarities in the stories that I knew I had to share.
Apparently, the number 1 thing spoonies need to do to be taken seriously is go to the doctor looking like death warmed over!
Why You Should Go to the Doctor Looking Like Sh*t
Many people, especially younger women, get the brush-off from medical doctors because they simply don’t look sick. Well, when I was a younger woman, I didn’t look sick either, but I was.
That’s why conditions like celiac disease, fibromyalgia, IBD, and traumatic brain injury are called “invisible illnesses”. There is no outside evidence of their existence!
I think the most unfortunate factor that comes up for women who live with chronic illness is how ingrained it is in us to put on makeup, do our hair, and be dressed in a nice outfit before we leave the house.
This is something most of us have been doing since childhood. After all, our caregivers put us into certain outfits and did our hair just right before we were allowed to go to school, church, or Aunt Sally’s.
While I think it’s important that all children, regardless of gender, are taught to practice good hygiene and look presentable, there seems to be an extra expectation attached to females that continues into adulthood.
What I mean is, most individuals on the female side of the gender spectrum automatically ‘fix up’ before going out in public. Even if they’re sick and going to the doctor.
It never dawned on me when I was in my twenties that my appearance had anything to do with the way people treated me. Even when I was exhausted, nauseous, and had horrible stomach pain, I still forced myself to put on makeup, do my hair, and look “good” before I went to a doctor’s appointment.
It was a routine that I followed automatically without any thought to how this would affect the way a medical professional would treat me. I felt horrible, but since I looked fine, I wasn’t taken seriously.
In one of the answers to the question I posted on Quora, a woman said she’d finally given up trying to look good and went to the doctor without fixing up or hiding anything. He took one look at her and ordered a bunch of tests right away.
The Medical Advantage of Looking Like a Zombie
It wasn’t until very recently that I’ve been comfortable enough to leave the house without makeup on a regular basis.
So, trust me when I say I completely, 100 percent understand how incredibly vulnerable you can feel when you’re not wearing it, especially if you have a chronic illness.
You feel like everybody is looking at you thinking:
“Oh my God, she’s so pale. Is she dying?”
“Does she ever sleep? Look at those dark circles!”
“What are those marks on her arms? Is she contagious?”
Yeah, it’s scary. Very scary. There’s nothing more off-putting than walking out your front door looking exactly how you feel.
You might as well be wearing a neon sign that reads:
“Yes, I AM a walking infection, and I AM coming after your children. Bwahahahaha!”
(At least that’s how it felt to me anyway.) But you know what? Those worried glances and erroneous assumptions from others are worth it.
Give Him a Good Whiff of Your Body Odor, Too
The next time you go to the doctor, don’t force yourself to shower, put on deodorant or perfume, slather on makeup, and fix your hair. If you decide to brush your teeth, do it with baking soda, nothing minty.
There’s a certain smell a sick body gives off that a healthy body doesn’t*, and you really want your doctor to get a whiff of it instead of covering it up with scented products. Even if he doesn’t recognize the smell for what it is, he will sense that something is wrong and be more likely to take you seriously.
So, when that doctor strides into the exam room after keeping you waiting for 35 minutes in a hospital gown, look him right in the eyes and show him your pain.
Resist the urge to smile, be polite, and ask how his kids are doing. You don’t care. Right now, it’s all about you. Let him see, smell, and feel your sickness. If he doesn’t order a bunch of tests immediately, find another doctor. If he tries to diagnose you with depression, find another doctor.
You deserve to be treated like a human being with a genuine health condition that requires medical care. “Pretty” does not come into play here, and if it does, it may ruin your chances of being taken seriously.
Shallow as it seems, that’s the way the world works. Appearance is everything.
So, go ahead and do it. Take off the mask. Be bold, be brave, be you, and watch how quickly things change.
Also, no matter how you look on the outside as a result of the health problems you’re facing, you are a beautiful, strong, and complete soul. Don’t let anyone make you feel differently.