Why I choose to be open about my illness

Health is viewed as something that should remain private, something between yourself and your doctor. I understand why people are taken aback by how open I am about my illness. After all, writing about the intricate details of your illness for anyone in the world to read is almost unheard of.

At first, being open wasn’t an option, everything was to remain private, with the exception of family and close friends. My father, who has the same illnesses, is notoriously private about his health. In fact, he only started to talk about his health with me, when I was facing the same fate. Not hearing him speak of his illnesses became normal to me, I thought that was how you were to handle having a chronic illness. And, that is partly why I decided remaining private was the best decision.

At the start, there was nothing to indicate that I was poorly, only a bright red rash on my right cheek. But as the months went on, I grew pale and I looked exhausted. A picture of my cousin and I was taken, it was my first experience of using make-up to hide my illness. I thought I made myself look how I wanted: well. Later that night, I saw my mum looking at the picture and she had a sad expression on her face. She looked up at me and said “you look poorly, it’s your eyes”. I brushed it off, thinking I did a good job at hiding how I felt, but I recently looked at the picture and she was right, I looked poorly. It was all in my eyes, they looked glazed, almost like I wasn’t there. I guess the saying ‘eyes don’t lie’ is true. The picture, for those who don’t know me, I’m in the pink cardigan.

People had started to realise something was amiss, I was no longer seen out and about. For months, I was shrouded in the same four walls in a zombie like state. But, when I was seen people would ask “are you OK?” and all I could reply was “I’m being tested for Lupus”. I could see the confusion in their faces and I was already being asked “what’s that?” at that stage. My GP told me to prepare myself for a Lupus diagnosis, and at first, I didn’t. For a time, I would lay in bed and think “like hell I have an incurable illness”…that’s something people call denial. Due to my acute denial, I didn’t research it, so I didn’t have a solid answer to give.

The consultant turned to me, looking serious and said “you have Systemic Lupus Erythematosus”. I didn’t have an “oh shit, it IS Lupus” moment, I reacted like someone had told me I had a cold. People still asked how I was doing, but I could no longer say I was being tested for Lupus. Plus, I wanted to keep it private so I just said “I’m getting there” when I wasn’t ‘getting there’ at all.

The questioning was a regular occurrence, so I did something that started a domino effect that would eventually lead to this blog. I wrote on Facebook that I had been undergoing testing for Lupus and I had received a diagnosis. The “how’re you?” questions were replaced with “what is Lupus?”. By this time, I had researched it and I could give a clear answer. My explanation became a monologue, it sounded as if I had stood in front of a mirror, rehearsing it over and over. I would find myself explaining it to the same person multiple times.

I’d wonder why nobody could understand it and why they were so fascinated by it. Then it dawned on me, I’m describing a serious illness but I look healthy, they couldn’t fathom it. I decided it was out of the ordinary and that’s why it was so fascinating. It’s a fascinating illness, you could research it for several hours and still be uncovering the layers of it.

The idea of a blog would surface in my mind numerous times but fear stopped me. I was petrified of being judged for something beyond my control. I’ve realised people become very judgemental when it comes to topics they know very little about. However, I realised that if I wrote about it, would people learn? Would they understand my illness? I asked myself, do you really want to share your journey with Lupus? My instant thought was no, but if I did, it could make a difference. I downloaded WordPress but the app remained untouched for a couple of weeks.

Whilst watching TV, I spontaneously opened the app and tapped the sign up button. It asked what I’d like to call my blog, it took me less that 2 minutes to decide a name. I went with the first one that came into my mind: Me, Myself and Lupus. I didn’t take my blog seriously at first, after all, I was only treading the waters of blogging to see if I’d take a liking to it. I started writing my first blog post: My Diagnosis Story. It’s a post I regret, I don’t regret sharing it, it’s a post I would have wrote regardless. My diagnosis was a pivotal moment in my life, it’s a story that I could and should have put more effort into, but I didn’t and that’s what I regret. I published it and shared it on Twitter. I wasn’t ready to share with my Facebook friends.

I realised I liked writing, it proved to be threaputic to me. I started to take my blog seriously. I logged on and picked a theme, I chose a font, added a profile picture and chose a colour scheme. I learnt how to make banners and logos, I spent a few hours on the appearance. I wrote a few more posts, still only sharing to Twitter. During Lupus Awareness Month, I decided it was time to share my blog to Facebook. I was nervous, it’s easier to share the details of your illness with strangers, they don’t know you and they will never see you. I was blown away by the response and the amount of support I received regarding it. It propelled me into writing more.

Writing is now a big part of my life, a love I didn’t know I had. I love my corner of the internet, it’s my space to freely write what I like. Not every aspect of my illness is documented here, there’s some parts I keep private. Making my journey with Lupus a public one wasn’t an easy decision but it’s one I don’t regret.

The people who asked are no longer asking and they have a basic understanding. I have had thank you messages, it has made other sufferers realise they aren’t alone. I’ve had thank you messages from people who just wanted to learn. My blog has been shared by Lupus UK. It has helped and that’s exactly what it was set up for. Lupus still has very little awareness and it’s for that reason, I won’t stop sharing my journey. It’s a helter skelter of a journey, and you’re more than welcome to join me.

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