Story: “You're Just Looking for Attention”

Today's story comes from Jaime A. Heidel. Jaime is a freelance writer with a passion for natural health and wellness. After being sick from birth until age 22, she's made it her mission to help others with chronic illness find validation and support. 

Everybody has that one word that triggers them. A word that brings up so many emotions at once, it's like a kick to the gut. For me, that word is “attention”. I loathe that word because it’s been used as a weapon against me. It was also used as an excuse to dismiss me as a human being, and a way for others to absolve themselves of any responsibility regarding my need for special care.

See, I was born sick. As a child, my sinus problems were so bad, I always breathed through my mouth. It wasn't until my aunt told me to breathe through my nose that I even thought to try to, but no air went in or out. It was as though my nostrils were plugged with caulk.

Also, my stomach always hurt, I had embarrassing and uncontrollable gas, I had virtually no attention span, and I stared off into space, my eyes glazed over most of the time. If I wasn't in this near-catatonic state, I was screaming, rocking, and sobbing due to what I now understand to be autistic meltdowns.

I'm not like other women who have been told in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond that their just depressed or anxious or need more sleep when they present with mystery symptoms. That's bad enough, and nobody should have to go through that.

However, I was mistreated by the medical community at a much earlier age, and in addition to ensuring I would not get the help I needed, I was also branded for life. Doctors were patient and sympathetic at first, but, after running every test available, the only diagnosis they offered my family went something like this:

“This child is incredibly manipulative. She's not sick. She's just looking for attention.”

The man in the white lab coat had said not to trust the strange little girl in the corner, and by God, did they obey. From then on, every ache, pain, congestion, bout of confusion, and emotional outburst was met with, “You're just looking for attention”.

This came from family members, teachers, babysitters, and any other adult figure in my life. And if a new person entered the circle and reached out to help me, they were quickly taken aside and “educated”. What small light of hope I would see in their eyes would dull to suspicion and disappointment in a matter of minutes.

“You're just looking for attention.”

No. I wasn't. And no matter how many times I heard that, I never gave up, I never backed down. Doubt only fueled my determination to prove I had always been sick; that there was something medically wrong with me, and it had a name.

And if it killed me, I would find out what it was, then stand on the highest rooftop and shout: “I told you I was sick!”

When I was 22 years old, all the untreated health problems finally caught up with me. I wasted away to skin and bones, my hair started falling out in clumps, and I was so fatigued, I could barely function.

It was a naturopathic physician who finally looked at me and saw not a young woman desperate for attention, but a sick person who needed help NOW, or the damage was going to be irreversible.

After several weeks on an elimination diet, he diagnosed me with gluten intolerance, ITP (an autoimmune blood disorder), and multiple environmental allergies.

I would love to say that getting these diagnoses made everybody who once misunderstood magically turn around, apologize profusely, and take me into their waiting arms, but no such thing happened. The damage had already been done. According to them, even my doctor's findings were somehow something else I was making up.

It would take me almost 15 more years to finally be taken seriously, and it would take long-term hospitalization to do it.

I'm stable now. I have my good days and my bad days. I'm grateful for every peaceful moment. I've also come to understand something very important. There's nothing wrong with needing or wanting attention. It's a human survival mechanism.

Unfortunately, back in a little exam room in the 1980s, a doctor ignored my symptoms and changed the entire course of my life by telling my family I was just “looking for attention” and advising them to ignore me.

Well, I'm not being ignored anymore. I won't allow others to be, either. My story may be unique, but it is in no way uncommon. Far too many women have had their medical conditions dismissed because a man in a white lab coat said she was “fine” or “just depressed”.

No one person should EVER have that kind of sway over the way others perceive an individual. Doctors are not gods. They are human and make mistakes, too. Therefore, their words should not be taken as gospel.

I created I Told You I Was Sick back in 2010 to support and validate those living with chronic illness and help them find the real reasons behind their mystery symptoms.

I never want what I went through to be in vain. I want to help as many people as I possibly can. This is why I wrote Life Beyond Chronic Pain: The Step-By-Step Guide to Healing Chronic Illness Naturally. It contains a step-by-step process to put chronic disease into remission by treating it in the right order. If I can do it, you can, too.