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The Awkward Interactions I Face Because I Have an Invisible Illness

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“Woah, what are all the pills for?”

He points to the lineup of pill bottles sitting on my dresser. I take a moment to think about what I’m going to say. Generally, when I have a guy back to my place for the first time, I don’t like to open with, “Well, along with struggling with anxiety, I have a degenerative arthritic condition that is slowly but surely deteriorating my quality of life.”

So, I usually go with one of two approaches to deflect the question.

1. I make something up like, “I’m recovering from an injury.”


2. Sarcastically quip, “I’m a drug dealer!” and hope the topic is dropped.

Invisible illness is a funny thing. When you’re 26 and don’t look sick, some people assume your heath is their business.

Am I out of line to think that asking that kind of question is inappropriate and intrusive? Do I really need to hide my medications before having company over in order to avoid this awkward interaction?

What about when I’m having a bad day, and mercifully, an accessible seat at the front of the streetcar becomes available? When has it ever been acceptable to assume I don’t need the seat, and then shout at me to get up and give the seat to somebody who needs it? The interaction, without fail, usually plays out with me getting up with tears in my eyes, and quietly telling the angry individual that I have an invisible disability and that they shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But I don’t have a cane, walker, crutches, visible limp, or grey hair, so I must just be saving face, and my reply is ignored as horrified onlookers scramble to offer me their seat.

The real kicker? These kinds of interactions are what stop me from discussing my condition. As I write this, I think: should I post this on Facebook? Should I start an anonymous blog? Am I going to be flooded with “I had no idea!” and “I’m so sorry!” messages that I don’t want? My disability doesn’t define me, but each time I am faced with these kinds of thoughtlessness, it feels that way.

Here is what I want.

1. Before you judge me for sitting on the streetcar or taking the elevator up one floor, please take a moment to remember that not everything is what it seems.


2. Please ignore the pills on my dresser. When I’m ready, I’ll tell you what’s up. And if I don’t, well, I’ve decided it’s none of your business anyhow.

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Originally published: March 15, 2017
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