Though it’s been said, “There are no such things as stupid questions”—hell, I’ve even said it myself—some of the queries I’ve been subjected to as a result of my psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis make me want to change my mind about that nugget of popular wisdom.
The granddaddy of them all, however, is probably the most harmful question those of us with (mostly) invisible illnesses face: You look so healthy/normal; how can you be sick?
Of course, psoriasis isn’t necessarily invisible; the itchy, flakey, red, angry patches are easy to see if they’re on a part of the body that’s easily seen, like your face or hands. Luckily for me, my psoriasis is mostly confined to my scalp (at the moment), though it hasn’t always been that way.
And for some people, arthritis isn’t invisible, like the destructive form of psoriatic arthritis mutilans. But for me, in both cases, it mostly is. So, why is it so hard to believe that people could be struggling so hard just to look normal when they do, in fact, look completely healthy?
Well, at least in my case, I try really, really, really hard to make myself seem normal. I do my hair. I put on makeup. I wear nice clothes and shoes. I drink caffeine to give me energy. I take lots of pills to keep the pain and stiffness at bay. I sleep an insane number of hours on the weekend and try to take it easy after work. There’s actually quite a bit of effort into looking and acting effortless.
People often also have an expectation that the sicker you are, the worse you should look. There have been days when I have felt exceptionally horrible and no one was the wiser. That’s kind of the point: It’s an invisible illness. It’s not out there for the whole world to see in the same way being in a wheelchair is.
So here’s the rub: Just because we don’t look sick doesn’t mean we’re not. Just because we look like we’ve got everything under control doesn’t mean we do. And just because we’re good one day doesn’t mean we will be the next. That, my friends, is the fun of an autoimmune disease.