How Living a Life With an Invisible Illness Is Like Being a Duck


A couple of weeks ago, I was teaching a Taekwondo class when my instructor initiated what we call a “life skill talk.” That month, the life skill was self-control. He introduced the question by asking the kids what his favorite animal was and after a few guesses, he said that it was a duck. Above the water, ducks look perfectly relaxed and content, but in the water, their feet are treading water furiously to keep them afloat. In this particular situation, my instructor was trying to demonstrate to the kids that you have various thoughts and emotions, but they don’t have to show. For example, the kid might be hyperactive inside, but they don’t have to act the way they are feeling. I found it so relatable to my life and my experiences with chronic illnesses.

I think the same idea is applicable to people with invisible conditions. On the outside, we do our best to appear normal. Makeup may be applied, hair may be nearly groomed, and clothes may be freshly ironed. On the outside, like the part of the duck above water, it looks like absolutely nothing is wrong. A pleasant smile, a firm handshake, and some good conversation are all outsiders can see. There may be scars, braces, and/or mobility aids, but the person still appears mostly “normal” on the outside.

On the inside, there’s a constant battle going on. The body is fighting constantly and the mind may be fighting as well, because of the body’s fight. Patients may be worrying about an upcoming scan, waiting for test results, dealing with incompetent doctors, fighting the insurance company for a much-needed treatment, trying to get on disability after several denials, or stressing about an upcoming surgery or procedure. Then there’s the financial pressures that often come with long-term illnesses and helping family and friends to understand needs and limitations. Then you have to deal with all the people that say, “It can’t be that bad,” or, “You are lucky it’s not worse. You should be very thankful.” And who could forget the glares we get in the parking lot for parking in a handicap spot, because we “look perfectly healthy?” Or, in the case of younger people, we are “too young to need that spot” Some are even told, “Stop stealing grandma’s placard!” All of this is on top of typical life stressors and duties. Sounds overwhelming, right? It is!

Unfortunately, these stressors must be dealt with everyday, because chronic conditions do not take the day off. Therefore, people with invisible conditions are constantly stuck in a life similar to a duck. Everyone is like a duck in some ways, because we all have to exercise self-control while dealing with inner turmoil throughout our lives. People with invisible conditions have a bit extra to deal with constantly.

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