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25 Photos That Show What Invisible Illness Really Looks Like

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If you have a chronic illness that is often “invisible,” it can be difficult to explain to others just how sick you really feel. Many symptoms such as pain and fatigue can’t always be seen, while others can be hidden under clothing or makeup or by simply staying home. But regardless of whether or not you can “see” someone’s illness, it is important to recognize that everyone’s struggles are valid.

To shed some light on the reality of living with an “invisible” condition, we asked our Mighty community to share photos that show what it looks like to have an invisible illness. If people look closely, they may find that “invisible illnesses” aren’t necessarily so “invisible” after all. Some may have more visible signs or symptoms of illness than others, but all are equally deserving of understanding and compassion.

Here’s what the community shared with us:

1. “When the pain is so high… You can just be in bed and crying because the pain is so high. The autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis is so horrible. I live with seven chronic diseases. It’s a never-ending fight.”

woman lying in bed crying

2. “Yep, I look like any regular lady on a bike while on holiday in her home country (Belgium). But, in fact, I am sporting various invisible scars caused by brain surgery, melanoma and a total thyroidectomy.”

woman riding her bike

3. “This is me, at this exact moment. I’ve been in a pain flare for two full weeks now. Thursday nights are the one night a week I force myself to go out and act like a normal 21-year-old, but tonight, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. My pain is excruciating and the lack of movement makes this worse. I’ve had chronic pain for the majority of my life and I am still grieving the loss of my youth, my freedom and my dreams.”

woman lying in bed

4. “Sitting in my car, deciding whether it is worth it to actually get out of the air conditioning to go in a store. Contemplating why I even went out of the car in the first place. Remembering it was because I want a normal life, but that’s impossible with a needle in my chest and a service dog.”

woman sitting in the car with an IV in her chest

5. “Sitting in the emergency room alone the night of my partner’s senior show and the night before my partner’s college graduation, knowing everyone else my age was out drinking and having fun but that chronic illness has destroyed every attempt at normalcy I had ever had. I had no feeling in my legs and had passed out over a dozen times in 24 hours… I was given IV saline and sent home to try to get some sleep before pasting on a smile for graduation ceremony the next morning.”

man getting IV drip in the hospital

6. “I was getting over my third sinus infection in three months and I was exhausted, but I had to go out that day. I chose to wear my vogmask to hopefully prevent another infection, and my service dog was by my side to keep watch over me as being sick with any typical infection exacerbates my chronic illnesses.”

woman sitting in the car with her service dog and wearing a face mask

7. “On a particularly busy but oh so painful and tired day. I stay home because I have to for four reasons: myself and my three special needs boys. We rush from appointments to stores to wherever else. This day I picked up my first [disability] placard. After this we had our mandatory daily nap time, where they have alone time while me and the youngest have nap time.”

woman holding disability placard in car

8. “Me literally just out of the shower and super exhausted from not only an eight-hour shift but the shower itself. I know if I were to wait [until] tomorrow it would get done but then I’d have no energy for work… So I take them at night and go right to bed after. #EDSProblems”

woman lying in bed after a shower with her hair wrapped in a towel

9. “This is when I was in the hospital last year. I’m on PD (dialysis) but it wasn’t working as well anymore. Had to do a lot of manual bags that hurt like hell. I’m now on HD and it sucks. I tired and sick, I’m also forgetful and get muddled or confused easily. Been nearly six years on dialysis.”

dialysis machine and hospital bed

10. “This is me trying to feel better after a week in the hospital from having to have surgery on my arm after a fall when I got super dizzy and fell into a door frame. I deal with anxiety, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and hypothyroidism. Sometimes the pain is so much that I just lay in bed and cry but then I pull myself together because I have a family I have to take care of. Thankfully my family is understanding and help out as much as possible. By the way, my 12-year-old did my hair and makeup in this picture.”

woman wearing makeup with her hair done

11. “Waiting for a doctor appointment, bored, so I started reading a book. I was feeling anxious, not knowing what was going to happen. I was undiagnosed at that time and all I knew was I wanted the pain to stop. I was missing so much school due to pain and my constant falling and injuries. Finally got diagnosed with EDS [Ehlers-Danlos syndrome], but this is still one of my fave pics.”

woman lying on a hospital bed reading a book

12. “I have hEDS [and am] under studies for dysautonomia and a bunch of other stuff related to EDS, but I have the worst perception of where things are located. This time I ended up at the ER with luckily only a bruised up neck but with a sprain in the joint between my collarbone and my shoulder… Trust me, even the orthopedic was bewildered [as to] how I had managed to only hurt that small joint and in such degree. Fast forward two weeks later and I’m back at the same ER, but because my fifth rib is slipping under my fourth rib and they were worried it might puncture my lung. At the end, they blamed it all on EDS, sent me home and told me to take it easy.”

woman wearing neck brace in the hospital

13. “I slipped and fell last night because my nephew spilled some water. So. Much. Pain. I hate using my cane but I have to. It’s been a rough few weeks. I quit my job last week, I’ve been taken off three meds and I’m waiting for pre-authorization on two new ones. Being sick sucks. But, we’re all fighters!”

woman walking with a pink cane

14. “My husband took this picture while we were crossing a bridge I’ve never before been able to cross, due to my debilitating joint pain from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. I was feeling great!!”

woman sitting on her mobility scooter and crossing a bridge

15. “Here are my boys getting a blood transfusion. They do not make red blood cells properly so they get blood transfusions every 21 days. Right here I am feeling thankful. Thankful for their life. Thankful for blood donors. And if I’m being honest…exhausted.”

two boys receiving blood transfusion

16. “Our trip to Florida the other day. Beautiful beaches and love the sound of the ocean! I was sick as a dog the entire trip and trying to put on a brave face for the kids. I’m still recovering from this one, but wouldn’t trade it for the world. Literally the worst I’ve ever felt and even harder not to show it.”

woman and husband standing on the beach

17. “Myalgic encephalomyelitis (chronic fatigue syndrome), fibromyalgia, severe lung issues and all invisible with no doctor willing to take me seriously enough to diagnose me or treat me. All started seven months ago after exposure to hidden mold in my old apartment. I am bedridden when I’m not forced to work all day because disability keeps denying me since doctors can’t diagnose me.”

woman lying in bed

18. “Shortly after this picture (level six to seven pain and still smiling!), I took a step and collapsed on the floor. Luckily I had already put my beloved camera down. I have polyarthritis, but it was a rough week. I haven’t slept in days (insomniac), and I went to mediation for four hours yesterday, which led into four hours of teaching. My body revolted today, and my meds aren’t working. I cried in the bathroom before and after this picture, because I haven’t felt this pain in over a month, and I had forgotten how it feels.”

woman smiling and holding her camera

19. “I [have] chronic pain. I have good days and bad days. Today I’m in bed. The pain in my back is unreal. I have had a spinal op but not much improvement. I get spasms in my hips and down my legs [and] also struggle with pain in [my] neck, wrist and ankle. I live with hot water bottles stuck to my back. I can’t walk far. I’m 35 with four kids. It’s so hard and frustrating. I just want someone to understand the pain I [experience] daily.”

woman wrapped in a blanket sitting on the couch with her son

20. “Me struggling to hold my body up for a photo shoot due to connective tissue disorder and dysautonomia. I held a concert to raise money for a wheelchair and ramp for my house. Naturally my music friends performed so I could lie down on the floor in between my songs.”

woman sitting on piano bench

21. “I [just] took this. The fibromyalgia pain is excruciating right now [and] it’s causing the muscles in my legs to spasm.”

man sitting on his couch

22. “I have idiopathic angioedema. This was a day when both of my eyelids swelled. It’s hard to do anything but lay around; I can’t even watch TV because it hurts to even open my eyes. It hurts, it itches…yet there’s nothing I can do about it when it happens. I just have to wait until the swelling goes down.”

woman with red and swollen eyelids

23. “I had someone tell me I don’t look sick, so I took this picture to show people anytime they say that to me now.”

multiple pill bottles and medications

24. “My first time hiking after having my foot joints replaced and fused. It was a wonderful day!”

woman wearing a hat and hiking with text #seearthritis

25. “This is a happy photo! Day after two artificial discs in my neck, I’m pain-free for the first time in years! I’ve slept and don’t need narcotics! I feel blessed. I’m now two weeks post-op and still can’t believe I’m pain-free.”

woman wearing neck brace

Originally published: August 4, 2017
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