With illness, appearances can be

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 14, 2006


In 1994, I underwent surgery at age 33 to repair a knee damaged years earlier in a car accident. I spent six months undergoing physical therapy prior to my June 6 surgery and another six months of PT after it.

Things were never quite the same again for me.

I had a hard time recovering from the trauma of having muscle and tendon literally slashed to ribbons to slide my kneecap back into place. Don't get me wrong; my Omaha surgeon did a fantastic job.

After six weeks, I put on my Reeboks with socks color-coordinated to my dressy outfits and went back to my job selling fine jewelry at a local department store.

But I never got truly &#8220well.”

For two years, pain and fatigue continued to haunt me, steadily seeming to increase. My balance worsened. I was scared to keep doing my exercise videotapes because I was sure I'd trip over the step and knock myself out cold.

My daylong jaunts serving as the personal shopper for my relatives didn't bring me the satisfaction of a

&#8220bargain hunt” anymore. They just wore me out.

Sleep - truly refreshing, restorative sleep - didn't seem to exist in the regular doses I needed anymore.

My muscles ached and burned as if a red-hot poker had been pressed against my flesh. I went to bed tired and hurting and generally woke up the same way.

When I came down with a cold, sinus infection or some other malady, I had the hardest time kicking it.

I had graduated second in my high school class and with cum laude honors from college. Now I seemed to be in a sort of mental fog way too often.

Was I living up to the reputation of the stereotypical &#8220dumb blonde?”

I had medical tests done. A lot of things were ruled out; I didn't have multiple sclerosis or lupus. But what did I have? That was the mystery.

On the outside, I still looked OK, so I couldn't really be sick, could I?

Inside, part of me just wanted to die. I was letting my husband down, my co-workers down. Life wasn't the same anymore.

A decade ago, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia or FMS, categorized as an &#8220invisible chronic illness.” (I also have conditions with equally catchy names like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Restless Legs Syndrome, along with osteoarthritis in both my knees.)

Researchers still don't know precisely what causes many of these illnesses to develop. Often, it does seem to be tied to a physically traumatic event, like a car accident, surgery or giving birth.

Unfortunately, there are also no cures, none of the quick fixes we have become accustomed to these days. Popping a pill, injecting a needle, or going under the knife won't necessarily make things better.

These conditions wax and wane; as we get older, often other problems develop to exacerbate these invisible illnesses.

We don't generally use canes, walkers or wheelchairs. Our invisible illnesses don't disfigure us. We look fine, so we can't really be sick, can we? At least, that's what a lot of people think.

That's the battle we face each day, struggling to cope with jobs (if we are still able to work, that is) homes, families and friends who may not understand what is going on inside of us.

This is Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week, and I am sharing my story on behalf of my fellow survivors out there. In a separate article, some of these survivors will share their own stories.

We want to pull our own weight. We want to be able to earn a paycheck, play with our kids, go on outings with friends, help with the club and church committees and keep a nice house, do all the things &#8220normal” people do.

Just cut us some slack when we can't do it all, or as well, as we'd like to do, as we used to do.

We don't ask for pity. We simply ask that you keep an open mind.

All pain and suffering isn't readily visible to the naked eye, folks.

That doesn't mean it isn't there.

Angie Long is Lifestyles reporter for The Greenville Advocate. She can be reached at 382-3111 ext. 132 or via email at angie.long@greenvilleadvocate.com.