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Why I'm Done Apologizing for My Invisible Illness

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I’m over apologizing for my invisible illness.

The words “I’m sorry” have left my mouth so many times over the past two years. But while others use these words to apologize for mistakes, I’ve been using them to apologize for my invisible illness.

Two years ago I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease, after undergoing an emergency operation to remove my large bowel after it was found to be 30 minutes from perforating.

I was given a stoma bag, of which I lived with for 10 months, before undergoing a reversal to join me back up and remove the bag.

But bag or no bag, I’ve still found myself apologizing for an illness that is out of my control. The words “I’m sorry” have come about in many situations involving my illness.

I have lost count of the amount of times I have felt the need to apologize to people angrily waiting outside for me to finish up in the disabled toilets, only to find out I’m not physically disabled. People don’t seem to understand the concept of invisible illness – or at least judging by the looks I’ve received I’m assuming so, and therefore I’m often looked at dismissively, with people believing I’m using the disabled toilets selfishly.

Because of this, I always find myself apologizing upon leaving the toilets, before they can even say anything, just to calm the situation before I’m made to feel ashamed and embarrassed.

I apologize for my invisible illness when I feel too sick to go out with friends, despite looking well on the outside. For me, it’s not just a case of telling them I’m unwell. It’s hard when you look OK to explain that you don’t feel OK on the inside – especially when it’s a regular occurrence. To convince these people that you are pulling out of socializing to benefit your health, you end up going all out with a detailed explanation.

Thinking about it, this really sucks. Because, if you were to have a broken bone or a bad cold, you wouldn’t need to apologize – people can see you’re unwell and therefore wouldn’t think any different. Life with an invisible illness is a whole different ball game entirely.

Of course, these aren’t the only two examples of feeling the need to apologize. Work commitments, family events and feeling ill in public are all often occurrences – and ones that leave you feeling incredibly guilty.

But thinking about it, why should we feel guilty? Why should we apologize for an illness that is totally out of our control? We didn’t ask for the diagnosis – the diagnosis chose us. And all we can do is live with it the best we can.

I’m done apologizing for my invisible illness. I’ve come to the realization that sadly, people are always going to judge. Often wrongly, I know, but there’s no escaping the fact it’s going to happen.

And with this in mind, I am choosing to stop apologizing to these people when it’s likely they’re not going to believe me anyway.


The writer standing in front of a mirror, with her ostomy.

At the end of the day, why do I care whether these people believe I’m sick or not? I wouldn’t have to justify living with a visible illness, so why should I have to justify mine just because you can’t see it to the naked eye?

I’m over apologizing because quite frankly, living with an invisible illness is hard enough in itself without having to make it about other people. I’m over feeling guilty just because people may not understand that I need to take time out for myself. And the truth is, if these people don’t understand, they’re not worth my time anyway.

But overall, I’m just tired of apologizing for an illness that I have to live with every day. Sure there’s some good days, but when it’s bad, the last thing I want to have to do is make things worse by worrying about what other people think. That they’ll think I’m making it up to get out of an event, or just wanting a day off of work to lounge around doing nothing.

I’m tired of fearing my illness is not visibly serious enough to give myself recovery time. It’s time to put a stop to these feelings of fear and guilt and start thinking about ourselves.

Just because an illness is invisible, it doesn’t make it any less serious.

There will always be people out there who won’t understand – but let’s take the time to educate them instead of hiding away in fear of their negative judgement. If they query you on the use of disabled toilets or the likes, tell them a bit about your story.

They can choose to accept it or disregard it, but at the end of the day, they may go away with a little information they were ignorant towards before – and that’s something truly great.

But most importantly, please just stop using the words “I’m sorry” to people who don’t understand you’re unwell on the inside. You should not be ashamed, worried or feeling guilty about living with an invisible illness.

Forget the outside world, focus on yourself. The sooner you stop feeling bad about living with an invisible illness, the sooner you can focus on yourself, and ensuring your sole focus is on feeling as well as you possibly can.

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Thinkstock Image By: lekcej

Originally published: August 23, 2017
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