Catherine King, 28, only started sharing her chronic illness journey on Instagram in 2017, but she already has more than 18,000 followers on her @meme_the_sick_away account. They connect with the multiple daily memes and posts she shares about dealing with the good, bad, ugly, and funny of managing chronic and invisible illness.
King, who was born in Richmond, Virginia, but now lives in Melbourne, Australia, says she’s been sick since she was seven years old.
“On my 18th birthday my parents switched the candles as a joke saying that I was really 81,” King says. She is currently coping with narcolepsy, POTS, chronic fatigue syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, fibromyalgia, IBS, recurrent Staph infections, bipolar disorder, temporomandibular joint disorder, prolapsed lumbar discs, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“My body has never felt healthy, strong or fit. But for the most part you can’t tell because I generally look healthy,” she says.
Two years ago, King broke her hand and had to be put under general anesthesia to fix it; then she started getting recurring staph infections, which required three more surgeries. Coinciding with the traumatic loss of a friend, King says, everything “spiraled into my health going from water I could keep my head above to being the anchor that tethered me to the ocean floor.” Her already low blood pressure started causing her to pass out more frequently, and the strong emotions she was experiencing caused more frequent and severe narcolepsy and cataplexy attacks.
“The chronic fatigue got so unbearable that I had to move back in with my parents,” King says. She’s limited in how far or often she’s allowed to drive and can no longer take her dog on long neighborhood walks. “Things like going to sporting events and concerts are much too high energy for me and those use to be a very big part of my life. Dating and friendships are so much harder and finding the energy to meet people halfway just feels impossible.”
King says she posts memes like the ones in this article on Instagram up to five times a day. “The posts that resonate most are ones that touch on subjects chronically ill people think that they suffer alone,” she says.
“Often people want to cure us or tell us to keep being positive,” King says, but her account tells it like it is. She doesn’t want to be, as a friend put it, “inspiration porn.”
She’s found strength on Instagram because the people she connects with innately understand everything she’s going through.
“This life is isolating and there is often no way to help the people in your life to understand,” King says. “Finding support groups online of people suffering through similar problems as you is a much better use of your efforts.”