A request from your chronically ill friend: what I need when we talk about my sickness.

When I meet new people, I often struggle to explain what I need. This is it.

When I was 14, I woke up with a fat face.

I was sick with a fever higher than I had ever felt. My face felt like a sumo wrestler had crammed a cantaloupe into my ear.

My mom took me to the emergency room in the closest town to our family’s remote lake house in North Carolina. Receptionists shooed me in, nurses injected butt shots, and doctors gave me doe-eyed stares. They had no idea what was wrong with me.

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A few months ago, my feet began to hurt.

At first, I thought that it was just from standing a lot for work, but then it continued to get worse. The day the pain spread to my hands, I knew something was wrong.

But it was when it spread to the rest of my body — my shoulders, elbows, knees, and ankles — that I panicked. What was happening to me? All of a sudden everything hurt, all the time: sitting, standing, walking. At first, lying down was my only relief. But then the pain got so bad every joint would throb, no matter how comfortable I was.

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