What People-Watchers Don't See When 'Healthy-Looking' Me Walks By


I love to people-watch. It is one of my favorite things to do. Sometimes, I will ride the bus downtown for no other reason than to just sit and watch people as they walk by.

One day, while I was people-watching downtown, I noticed another person, sitting on another bench, watching people stroll by just like I was doing. No crazy revelations here. People-watching is an enjoyable activity, so it is no surprise that other people besides me do it. But seeing someone else doing it got me thinking. What would someone think if they saw me walk by? I mean, to an outsider, I must look pretty “normal.” I have a healthy-looking, fit and vital body. It’s nothing like what most people would imagine an ill person to look like. I know if I saw me walking by, I certainly would not think I was suffering in any way, shape or form. But that would often be far from the truth.

I can remember so many times over the past few years when I have been out in public, feeling as if my world was coming to an end, and the rest of the world around me was just humming along at its normal pace. Here I am, going into survival mode, reasoning with myself and dividing up simple tasks like grocery shopping into smaller, more manageable chunks. I try to survive by taking tiny steps and only focusing on a single task at a time. And meanwhile, there are all these incredibly normal things going on around me. A mom and her child argue about which cereal to buy. A clerk and a customer have a conversation about which apple is in season. A couple buys a six-pack and rents a movie to take home for a night in. There is a major contrast between what I am experiencing and what the rest of the world is experiencing. When this happens, I feel a jeux de position to the world around me. All the normal-ness seems so foreign to me. Yet I am right there next to it, almost able to relate to it.

Sitting on the bench downtown that day, I began to wonder how many people walk by me in this state of survival. How often am I the one on the “normal” end of someone else’s internal survival mode?

This got me thinking about how invisible illnesses should be treated. What are you supposed to do to help someone in this state? It is not like you can peer inside every single person who walks by you and see how he or she is feeling. That is why this is such a touchy subject. Unless they reach out and ask for help, as far as you know, they are normal people, going about a normal day’s activities.

Yet, so many people with all different kinds of invisible illnesses get upset with the world for not treating them the way they think they should be treated. They rightfully want support, recognition and understanding. However, they often want that to come organically from the world without ever having to explain their situation to anyone. They want people to innately understand them. That however, is not how this world works. If you do not reach out for help, the world has no way of knowing you need it.

At the same time, people with invisible illnesses are suffering and do deserve both recognition and support for what they are going through. Therefore, it is important for people with invisible illnesses to reach out and ask for help from the world. The world is such a kind place, full of amazing people. You will be surprised how much love and support you have from both strangers and people you know. People are there and ready to help you; they just don’t know you need help until you ask for it.

And as a general population, we should not assume that everyone is feeling as good as they look on the outside. We should be ready to jump in and help any and everyone. Just because someone does not look sick, we should never assume that they are not fighting a battle inside themselves. And most importantly, when someone does reach out for help, we must never diminish them or their illness, no matter how healthy they look. Remember, not all illnesses are visible illnesses. It is important to support everyone in this world from a place of compassion and non-judgment.

Follow this journey on Being Matt.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

*Sign up for our Chronic Illness Newsletter*


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Chronic Illness

To Donald Trump From a Special Needs Parent: Your Words Matter

Donald Trump recently made fun of rival John Kasich for the way the governor ate: “This guy takes a pancake and he’s shoving it in his mouth,” Trump said. “It’s disgusting. Do you want this guy for your president?” he added with a smirk. When my 13-year-old makes fun of his 10-year-old brother, I explain what [...]

When I Hide My Sick Self From the World

I am sick. I am sick, but you’d never know it. I am sick, but I look just fine. I am sick, but I have two jobs. I am sick, but I go to school. I am sick. I wake up and it’s hard to move. My body aches. My sick, achy body. I go [...]

How to Take Good Care of Yourself When Mother's Day Is Hard

With Mother’s Day on our minds, I want to talk to you about two issues that surface in my work but aren’t largely talked about during this time of the year: 1) permission not to celebrate holidays you feel challenged by and 2) what to do if you didn’t receive the mothering you needed and wanted growing up. Permission Not to [...]

Why I Rock My 'Mom Hair' With Pride

Last week, one small question brought my whole life as a special needs mom into perspective. “Mommy?” asked my snaggle-toothed 7-year-old. “Why is your hair black and tan?” I paused, quite sure my son was making a joke, the kind that only first graders find amusing. Chuckling, I brushed his question off and returned to blow [...]