Invisible Illness and Me: Chronic Pain and Modeling

If you’ve read my latest two blog posts, you know that my health journey has not been a simple one. I’ve had chronic pain, chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety since my early teenage years. I’ve been hospitalized several times for various illnesses, and had four surgeries before I turned 25. In recent years I’ve dealt with the aftermath of a car accident that left me with a whole list of symptoms and a whole lot of questions: Why did this happen to me? How am I supposed to make enough money to survive? How does anyone manage to cope with health issues and keep functioning as an adult?

I quickly learned that the way I’d been living - non-stop, burning out and then going full speed ahead again immediately, booking 4-12 photoshoots per week while in school full time - wasn’t going to work anymore. I left school, I dialed way back on modeling, and I focused on regaining my health.

And I floundered. A lot. I tried a lot of things, many of which helped me regain energy temporarily but weren’t enough to maintain it long term. And because I didn’t look sick, people still expected me to be available for their projects as well as my own. It felt like I never had time to rest unless I was stuck in bed feeling too sick to enjoy it.

Many times I resigned myself to a life of fatigue, struggling to balance work and health, always compromising one to boost the other. Sometimes I expected to live that way the rest of my life, feeling good and getting lots of work done one week and then spending the next two weeks in bed.

It didn’t help that every time I started feeling poorly again the first things to go were the fledgling habits I was trying to implement that were making me feel better.

Ultimately, I spent four years learning how to balance my energy levels and care for my symptoms while also running my business and enjoying a personal life. The first time I finished work for the day and had enough energy left that I actually wanted to go outside and play tetherball was mindblowing. I felt like a kid again, like a weight had been lifted and I was free.

Of course it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows from there. I still have upswings and down - that’s how energy works. The difference is that now I know how to listen to my mind and body and give myself what I need before I burn out or melt down, whether that’s food, water, rest, or play. I still spend days in bed occasionally, but now it’s intentional, giving myself a day to rest and be still. (And catch up on my reading!)

Why am I sharing this? Because I’m not the only person I know who has struggled with this. In my family alone, there are at least three women with Fibromyalgia, five with depression, and two diagnosed with Lyme and co-infections. I’m pretty sure everyone else has at least one chronic invisible condition: Diabetes. Gout. Chronic Pain. Chronic Fatigue. Hashimotos. Anxiety. Migraines.

And it’s not just that my family is particularly unhealthy: most (if not all) of my friends suffer from at least one chronic invisible condition as well, as have most of my coaching clients over the past four years and most of the women I meet.

While doing research for an upcoming workshop I’m hosting, I discovered that in America 1 in 2 people suffer from chronic conditions, 96% of people with one or more chronic conditions live with a condition that is invisible, and women are statistically more likely to suffer from invisible illnesses. That means most women are walking around every day in pain, low on energy, and beating themselves up because they can’t get enough done.

To be honest, I knew that the statistics had to be high. From my lived experience I knew that most women have had, currently have, or will have some sort of chronic condition. But somehow I didn’t expect the statistics to actually reflect that. Invisible illnesses are everywhere, yet there’s very little accommodation for them in our society. 

This needs to change. I don’t have an answer to how that can happen, but I do know that talking about it helps.

Freelance modeling is a profession that seems to attract people with chronic pain and illness. Many of us can’t handle office jobs sitting all day, and definitely can’t handle retail jobs standing in one place all day. The ability to set our own schedules, work around our illnesses, and accommodate our own needs is appealing. The fact that modeling involves a mixture of movement and stillness is helpful when both moving too much and sitting still too long both cause pain.

We’re artists. Our chronic conditions do not define us, and they aren’t the only reason we do this work.

But in an industry where many of us live with chronic fatigue, chronic pain, and chronic (often invisible) illness, in a society where most of the people I know are living with these things, I think the more we talk about the realities we face and the decisions we make to accommodate them, the better off we all are.

So this is me, talking about my reality. I didn’t choose a career as a freelance nude model because of my health, but when health issues flared up it helped immensely to be working for myself in something other than a desk job. Modeling kept me active and fit when I had little motivation to exercise, and kept me motivated and got me outdoors when I had little reason to leave the house.

It wasn’t always easy - I’ve posed through migraines so debilitating that flash left me blind, sometimes without the photographer ever realizing. I’ve regretted booking shoots on days I had barely enough energy to get out of bed, and I’ve been proud of myself when I still showed up and did a good job.

I’m a lot healthier now than I used to be, and I still have a long ways to go. But I know now that I’m not alone. And neither are you.

About the Author

Eleanor is an accomplished traveling nude model and has been pursuing her art since 2010 and posing nude since 2011. Her work has been published in a variety of magazines, books, and galleries, including a special event at the Louvre. She now draws on her experience as a freelance nude model as a women’s empowerment coach, helping women reclaim their lives and bodies through transformative nude photoshoot experiences.

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