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Just to have a diagnosis, you’d accept even the worst titles. You dream there will some day be a label for the madness eating away at your body and your life.
You want to scream when test after test returns “normal.” You feel hopeless when time after time, appointments end without any answers- you wonder how much longer your body will hold out like this.
Each frustrated physician is at a loss, and they worry that anything more they try might only make you worse. So, one by one, they set you free into the river of uncertainty to face the un-named beasts in you alone.
Instead of one confirmed diagnosis, you have a long list of symptoms masquerading as conditions. “Chronic migraine” for example, or “vertigo.” You instinctively know that they are only symptoms of a larger, more pertinent illness, but no one can pinpoint what it is.
When I was 22, I was diagnosed correctly and immediately with a rare neurological condition.
There are no words to express my devastation; the world as I knew it had crumbled.
The early diagnosis did not help me find remission, but being diagnosed immediately afforded me some stability.
Instead of blaming my body, instead of staying up nights searching online to identify what might be wrong with me, instead of spending years looking far and wide to find the answer to the screaming question disabling me, I could turn toward the crucial journey of acceptance, coping, and seeking treatments. I sought knowledgeable doctors, read helpful research online, and reached out to support groups with the same shared name of my condition. I could blame my disease for my illness, and so could my family.
At 28, I had a very different experience. I became more ill than I have ever been… and I’ve been undiagnosable ever since. Everything has been different this time around.
Tests were normal, doctors gave up quickly and treated me like they were afraid of me. Hospitals admitted me immediately, but had no answers to give.
I began to feel like less of a person and more like a medical chart. The worse I became, the less interested doctors were in treating me. My value as a person was undermined…
I felt so alone, and it seemed that my body was trying to kill me.
For most patients with rare diseases, it can take years to recieve a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Seven years is the average wait.
Even if it’s a terrifying prognosis, having an answer, a community, having a standardized list of symptoms, expectations, and FDA approved treatments, is so validating when you are suffering so fiercely. Instead of blaming yourself, you can finally name the monster taking you over.
When you have a diagnosis, those who love you can advocate on your behalf. They can donate to fundraisers and participate in walks, they can pray there’s a cure for the condition torturing you. But when there is no name, people doubt you. It doesn’t matter how sick you are, if you can’t identify why you are unable to move, or sleep, or eat, or leave your bed… people wonder about your sanity. They wonder about your personal will and your strength.
They’ll say you haven’t done enough to get well. They’ll say there is more you could do, and you are just unwilling.
Ironically, the same people will later whisper that you’ve become obsessed with your illness and seeking out treatments – that it has consumed you.
If trying to regain your health has become your priority, do not listen to anyone doubting you. You are trying to save your own life. And your life is worth fighting for! You must be aggressive. Giving up is not an option.
You are not the words on a medical chart. You are not a list of symptoms, and your name is not a condition. You are not your medical history, or your pain level from 1-10. You might be in the habit of talking about matters of health, but please don’t forget about the you who has never left. You haven’t diverted from your journey. You’re the person who made you into the fighter that you are today. The unique, beautiful, lovable, sometimes goofball you. You are the only YOU this world has.
YOU are rare.
As for myself, I have come to accept that my diagnosis is rare and complex. It may in fact forever be “undiagnosable.” Managing the nameless, and finding doctors who are willing to try and do the same is my path now.
We do have labels which help us find each other, support one another, and build community. We can fight together as warriors with a united cause. We can be identified by “chronically ill,” “rare disease” and “spoonie.”
We may be undiagnosable (for now), our illnesses might not be easily identifiable, but we are not invisible.
Article also published on The Mighty.