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What You Can't Tell From Looking at Those of Us With Invisible Illnesses

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This week is invisible illness week.

Admittedly it is not something I think I’ve ever posted/written about, but this year it feels more relevant to me and I’m a little bored lying in the hospital right now, which has got me thinking that I cannot let this opportunity pass by.

In case you’re wondering, an invisible illness is a chronic illness that can’t necessarily be seen by the naked eye and are not apparent on looking at someone. There aren’t obvious plaster casts or tubes or oxygen masks or aides… just seemingly normal people walking/sitting among everyone else.

While this does sound appealing to be able to not look disabled or ill, there are times when this can be even harder than if you looked sick. Sounds crazy, right?! Truth is, it’s simple!

The lack of physical evidence in plain sight makes it much harder for people to comprehend or even for some to acknowledge, which makes for some really challenging and unnecessary situations. 

I could go into masses of stories about times people have been misjudged or mistaken because of an invisible illness, but I won’t. Instead, because it’s Invisible Illness Awareness Week, here’s some food for thought…

Because it’s not staring you in the face doesn’t mean it’s not hidden out of your sight. 

Because the person isn’t a blubbering mess doesn’t mean they’re totally fine.

Because someone doesn’t talk about their illness 24/7 doesn’t mean it’s not as life-consuming or life-limiting as visible illnesses.

Because someone doesn’t use a wheelchair or walker on every single day doesn’t mean they’re lazy or faking it.

Because someone parks in the disabled spot but gets out of the car and walks inside the shops doesn’t mean that they don’t have an illness that makes them sick and unable to walk much further or stand for a limited time. 

Because someone says they can attend events and cancels at the last minute doesn’t mean they are always bailing or uninterested in what is happening.

Because somebody can go for a walk one day doesn’t mean they will be able to get out of bed the next. 

I could go on forever with this list, and that is really sad. Sad that in this day and age we continue to second-guess people and look for their flaws or dishonesty. We see with our eyes before we think with our heads or hearts. We look for the “bad” person or the fraud before we look for the fragility of someone suffering. It is truly disgusting and saddening. 

If I think about my illness and the last few years, for some parts it has been pretty visible, but what has been seen is most definitely not all of it.

I have my power wheelchair which screams disability and I have literally been lying in hospital for five of the last six years — very obvious stuff.

What’s not obvious, though, is the hidden tubes and bits and pieces under my clothes. The central line hidden under my skin, the blood pressure and heart rate readings I get when I’m about to lose consciousness, the multiple medications I take multiple times per day, the carers and nurses that come to help me every day, all of it and so much more which I choose not to go into. All invisible to a person on the street, to you on the Internet, and to everyone unless you know me pretty well or I tell you. 

In today’s society we are still so judgemental which makes having an invisible illness twice as hard. This is not written with the intention of a cry for pity or a woe is me, this is awareness. Awareness for the people with chronic illness and the thousands or millions with invisible illnesses every day, everywhere. 

I have long loved a quote that sums up this dilemma, so I will leave it with you to ponder over:

“Be kind. Always. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” 

Originally published: September 28, 2016
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