cw: ableism and mention of throwing up
It’s difficult living in an ableist world with invisible disabilities.
I have been in pain of some sort since I was a child. I was ill frequently, with constant stomach pains and general feelings of malaise. Stress made it all worse, and one year I was home from school so often, my parents got a call from the school asking about if I was skipping (with A+ grades, you’d think they wouldn’t be concerned).
At some point as I got older, I stopped mentioning these pains. I stopped telling my parents that I didn’t feel good and how exhausting it was doing anything. I figured everybody was like this. I must not have been strong enough to deal with it like everyone else.
In college, it got worse. I hurt. I felt sick. Every morning, I’d wake up so nauseated I didn’t think I could make it to class. My stomach would clench inside and bloat with no tangible reason. My muscles ached beyond what dance classes caused.
In my second year, I woke up with my first true migraine.
Bright lights and loud noises have always overstimulated me, but that day they were worse than ever. I felt horrible. I tried to eat a bagel before class, thinking perhaps some food would help settle my stomach.
I took maybe two bites before tossing it.
To reach my class from the café, I had to walk down half a block and cross a busy intersection that always had cars around. As I stood there at 9-something in the morning, that fainting feeling returned.
Making it to the building was a miracle in itself.
My teacher was late, always one to come in on her own time but punish us if we followed suit. I needed to speak with her.
I didn’t like this teacher from the get-go. She was unnecessarily brusque and very demanding, whether we could perform what she wanted us to or not.
I asked to speak with her in the hallway. My face was pale; I knew because I was cold. I looked up at her and my head throbbed. Florescent lights lined the hallways, on even during the daytime.
“I’m having a terrible migraine. I don’t think I’m going to be able to perform, but I wanted to let you know ahead of time–”
“Did you eat something this morning?”
Oh. Good. She’s concerned about me.
“I had a bagel before I came her–”
“Did you brush your teeth today?”
I was so confused. What did that have to do with anything?
“Y-yes?” I stuttered.
“You have food in your teeth.”
Um, thanks? My vision’s going white, but OK. Sure. I probably did.
“When you’re in a scene like this,” she continued, talking about our Romeo and Juliet kissing scene, “you have to make sure your hygiene is top priority. It’s not fair to your scene partner.”
What fresh hell was this?
I was standing there in front of her, visibly paling and losing strength until I needed to lean against the wall to talk to her, and she was talking about my teeth.
“No, I’m not feeling well. I’ve got a migraine.”
“Take care of your mouth. That’s why you don’t feel well.”
And she walked back into the classroom.
I couldn’t believe it. I was standing there on the brink of passing out or throwing up or quite possibly both, and my teacher had ignored every word I’d said.
I stumbled my way back into the classroom.
Less than five minutes in, I was rushing out of the room to the toilets, my stomach more than ready to unswallow what little bagel and lot of stomach acid it had.
The tiles of the floor were cool. I was very much not.
My head was swimming, everything felt like it was shifting around me, and all I could vomit was thin oily drainage from the back of my throat. I shuddered all over, feeling somewhere between faint and dying. I’d never been so sick before.
A few minutes later, my teacher entered the bathroom.
“You really are sick, huh?”
Well, whoop-di-fucking-do you finally figured that out. It’s not as if my telling you I was feeling horribly ill was enough to convince you, no. What would I, the person living in my own frail body, know about how it was doing?
Another student brought me my bag and said a get-well wish. The moment I felt barely strong enough to stand, I did. And got the hell out of there.
It was all I could do to just walk to my dorm. I couldn’t call my parents. I couldn’t think about anything. Just the next step, the next slab of cement, the next driveway I passed.
With my last burst of energy, I made it to my room and closed up every window, turned off every light, pulled every curtain around my bed until the room was in as total darkness as I could make it. Shuddering, I called home.
That was the first time in my life I’d ever been so sick that I feared for my life. Maybe that was dramatic and there wasn’t anything to really fear, but I had never had something hit me so hard so fast.
The migraine lasted for three days.
Ever since then, migraines have been a part of my ongoing illnesses. It’s a rare day when I don’t have one. I told my mom about how the migraines have become a daily thing and she said, “I know. I’ve had headaches since I was 17.”
I had no idea.
Because we’re taught not to talk about our illnesses, or if we’re not feeling well. Everybody’s got problems, you should just pull yourself together and get on with things! Sure, you’re in bed half the day with debilitating pain to the point you can’t think, but, let’s think about this:
Have you brushed your teeth today?