What Hurting My Ankle Made Me Realize About Having an Invisible Illness


Several weeks ago, I fractured my ankle. It has a cast on it and I have to use crutches. As one who has an invisible disability of bipolar disorder, postpartum onset, I’ve discovered several differences between having a visible challenge and an invisible challenge. In particular, I’ve noticed the following four things:

1. People showed more compassion for my visible challenge.

I noticed the compassion and empathy I’ve received during this visible challenge far outweighs what I’ve ever received as a result of my invisible challenge. Even when the invisible challenge is known to others, the compassion received is minimal unless the other person has direct experience with an invisible challenge.

2. It’s easier to share experiences when you have a visible challenge.

It’s amazing how easily people share they were on crutches or had broken a bone. This seems to be the complete opposite when you have an invisible challenge. With an invisible challenge, many don’t feel comfortable sharing their experience with others. In fact, I found that others won’t even tell me they’re also facing an invisible challenge unless I share first.

3. People are more willing to help and assist you when you have a visible challenge.

The offers I’ve received to help me during this visible challenge have been plentiful.  Whether offering transportation or help with practical support, I’ve been amazed by how many people have reached out to assist me. In contrast, the offers I’ve received to help me with my invisible challenge are minimal, and usually only come from individuals who also live with an invisible challenge.

4. I experienced better medical care and treatment for my visible challenge.

Now this one doesn’t surprise me —  I’ve been getting excellent care for my ankle, from orthopedic care to home health care since I cannot drive. On the contrary, I’m often viewed through my diagnosis of bipolar disorder when seeking other medical treatment — even if it’s for an adverse reaction to a medication. Why? Invisible challenges should receive the same medical care and treatment as visible challenges. This observation, in particular, helps me stay motivated to continue my advocacy efforts. No one should receive sub-standard care just because they’re facing an invisible challenge.

So as an advocate for mental health, I now have a perspective I didn’t have before. I’m thankful I’m able to see what it’s like to have a visible disability as well. It’s important to recognize the need for assistance and support regardless of the type of challenge one is experiencing.

Follow this journey by visiting Jennifer’s site.

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