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The Most Important Thing to Remember About People With Invisible Illnesses

Looking at me, the only thing that identifies is me as someone with an invisible disability is my service dog. That’s part of the reason I love my service dog so much; I don’t meet as much resistance from the public because I clearly identify myself as someone with a disability by having a service dog.

But what about everyone else? What about everyone else with a chronic or mental illness? An invisible illness that makes us look fine on the outside and tears us apart on the inside.

September 26 to October 2 is Invisible Illness Awareness Week. There are so many illnesses, so many different diseases that plague millions of people across the world. Some disabilities are visible, like a prosthetic or a wheelchair, but most of us go about our life with a smile on our face, hiding our pain from the world.

It’s hard to come out and tell the world about that pain. People don’t understand. They see us on a good day, and they don’t think we are sick. They don’t see our bad days, the days curled up in bed when everything is just too, too much.

Invisible Illness Awareness Weeks brings all kind of awareness to mental and chronic illness that will hopefully help the public understand our illnesses better.

But really, if you haven’t gone through it, you can’t understand it.

You can’t understand what it’s like to sit and watch the world go by, limited by a body that is too young to be giving out on you.

You can’t understand what it’s like to watch your peers go on with their lives and careers, getting promotions and getting married, starting families.

You can’t understand what it’s like to celebrate being out of the hospital for three months, only to go in the next day.

During this week of awareness, think about all the people you know. All of your friends, some close and some not so close, coworkers, acquaintances and family members. Chances are, whether you are aware of it or not, that several of them are struggling with some kind of invisible or chronic illness. It’s not even a chance, it’s a given. The people you see out in the world, functioning and working despite their chronic or mental illness… those are the people you would never know are sick. They fight the good fight and win most days, God bless them.

But for most of us on the mental health and chronic illness spectrum, that’s not life.

We might not know how to talk to you about anything else other than our health because that’s really the only thing going on in our life.

Some of us can’t work. Trust me, it’s not as glamorous or fun as you think.

Some of us can’t drive, which in turn means we can’t leave our home without someone else taking us.

Some of us don’t have the spoons to take a shower every day.

Our illnesses may be invisible, but that doesn’t make them any less real or serious. They are chronic, debilitating diseases — invisible or not. We do our best, we put on a brave face. We do what we can, each and every day.

Sometimes that’s not enough for the world, and if you are mentally or chronically ill like me, you know that you lose friends and family members along the way who just can’t cope with what you are going through.

The important thing is this: We have invisible illnesses. We are not invisible people.

We crave love and comfort. We like to have fun. We like to go out and socialize. We are good, loving people. We just happen to be sick.

If you can look past our illness, if you can see us for who we are, rather than what our illness makes us, then maybe we can take the stigma out of invisible illness.

Follow this journey on Living Without Limits.