Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Ultimate Deception

It almost sounds like I'm writing a spy novel from the title. But sadly, this is a work of non-fiction. I've been thinking a lot lately about appearances, and how we as a society are quick to jump to conclusions about people based upon what we are seeing. Appearances can be deceiving and seeing isn't always believing.

I am disabled. I have an incurable, difficult to treat disease - Crohn's Disease - that has caused a lot of interference in my life. When I was first diagnosed, June 2012, you would likely look at me and have said "Well there's a skinny kid, he needs to eat more". I was small, but for good reason, I wasn't absorbing my nutrients correctly so I wasn't keeping up with my friends in the growth department. And here I thought it was just because I was the "baby" of the class having a birthday in the middle of December. Oh how I wish that was the case.  When my disease started, while the pictures show me smiling, the reality was that there was massive damage and heavy bleeding going on inside of me. I was so sick that my body was a toxic wasteland, but the only thing you would see is that I was thin.

Then I was diagnosed, put on steroids (the dreaded pred) and people started to treat me differently as my weight nearly tripled. I've wrote before about how I was bullied at school, called the "fat lady", and made to feel really bad about how I looked. But I would also get a lot of stares and "double takes" when I was out and about, people looking at me and making comments about how kids these days ate too much junk. They didn't know that at that time, I was fighting to keep my bowel. That the steroids were the only thing keeping me from bleeding to death. Or that during this time I would have to wake up and take anywhere between 12-18 pills, and that's just to start the day. I didn't look "sick" to a lot of people, but my doctor's were really worried that my colon could bust apart at any time, so the reality was a completely different story.

February 7, 2013 I had a colectomy, the complete removal of my colon, and an ileostomy was performed (taking the last part of the small intestine and tunneling it through the stomach to create a way of eliminating wastes). I finally had something that changed my appearance, my so-called proof that I was indeed sick. Yet it's still something that at the time, I kept hidden from public view because nobody wants to see poop. It changed the way that I could dress though, as there are few trendy clothes that fit right and worked to conceal the bag. Fashion designers don't make cool clothes just for people with an ostomy. But I found that pants that buttoned up or with zippers were just out of the question with my new medical fashions.

Since the time of my colectomy, I have used a wheelchair at times just so that I could enjoy some events that otherwise I wouldn't have the physical energy to do. Such as going to the fair. What I really noticed is that when I was in the chair, people would move out of the way, hold doors for me, and generally treat me differently, but when I got up to go on a ride, I heard people saying "can't be too disabled" and other hurtful comments. There are plenty of people who are capable of walking small distances at a time but don't have the physical ability to be on their feet for hours. My wheelchair wasn't used just because I was lazy, it was used so that I could once again take part in life.

Last February, I could no longer tolerate solid food, so the doctor put me on complete bowel rest and I was fed through an NG tube running from my nose to stomach. I finally really looked the part of being sick with this tube taped to my face. People stared, they asked
questions, they offered to give up their seat on the train at rush-hour so I could have a place to rest. They treated me a whole lot differently and it was only the tube that caused this change. People often let us go in front of them in a line-up. The train gave us a discount because they could visibly identify me as a "person with special needs". At concerts, the staff of the venue would ask us if there was anything we needed to make our experience more enjoyable. People could see that I fit their belief of what a sick person should look like and treated me different.

Now the thing that really bothers me is when people who have seen me struggle say to me "You're looking great, you must be feeling so much better". Whoa. Huh? I've gained a ton of weight (leading to my doctors saying it was a medical emergency), I no longer have tubes taped to my face. All of that is true, but since when is that an indicator of actually feeling better? Why is it that the only time strangers go out of their way to be helpful, is when I'm visibly sick? For the past year and a half, I've lived with paralyzing nausea and daily vomiting. Unfortunately, unless I make a really big mess in front of someone, they're not going to be able to see this. Unless the tears of pain that I try so hard to hide, are falling down my cheeks you can't see the fact that my joints hurt so bad that they make me want to scream. Just because I'm trying to be happy, planting a smile on my face, or able to laugh at a joke, doesn't mean that I'm not sick or that I'm feeling better. Yet, I've met some medical professionals who judge how sick I am based upon whether I'm smiling, laughing, talking, etc. I might look great on the outside but my insides tell a completely different story.

So instead of assuming that I must be feeling ok because I look "normal" on the outside, how about asking me how I'm doing instead? And please, always keep in mind that other people might be fighting against their own invisible demons. Kindness, patience and understanding can make this world a better place for everyone.

1 comment:

  1. I can so relate to this Jacob.
    In UK we have to jump through hoops to get disability benefits. I have an appointment next week with an assessor at my house at 8am!!!
    They report on casual observations and a decision is made from a 45 minute interview.
    The 'professional' will see that I look absolutely normal and a bit on the chubby side. Surely that means I can't be ill???
    This is Deg btw